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Saturday 16 December 2017

What Katie Did Next: 'In which I get by on the kindness of strangers'

Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne

There are a number of reasons why I was running late for my flight that day. I could of course blame myself for mis- laying my passport. I could blame the taxi driver for being late.

Either way, the flight was leaving in 40 minutes and the Aircoach had only just reached O'Connell Street. My throat was tight and adrenaline was shooting through my veins. Fight or flight? I couldn't choose.

I envied the other bus passengers, people who "give themselves plenty of time". I bet they already had their liquids stowed in plastic bags and their boarding passes tucked into plastic folders.

Did I mention that I didn't have a boarding pass? Why, oh why did I choose Ryanair? I generally spend that little extra to fly with another airline but straitened circumstances called for the cheapest option, and boy was this flight cheap.

I was already up out of my seat by the time the Aircoach arrived into T1, looming ominously behind the driver and feeling a little like Sandra Bullock in Speed. I disembarked with an urgency that suggested the bus was rigged with explosives before running up the escalator. The flight was departing in 18 minutes.

I caught the check-in attendant's eye as I came careering towards the desk. "BERLIN!" I cried, doing my best attempt to look sad and desperate and funeral-bound.

She called the gate while I mouthed a Hail Mary, but I could tell from her expression that the situation was futile. "The gate's closing in 10 minutes," she said as she put the phone down.

"Can I just try?" I implored. She pursed her lips and shrugged her shoulders. "Okay." Really? Really? And with that she printed off my boarding pass. "But if you-"

I never got to hear the end of that sentence - I was already running towards security.

I ran and I ran and I ran. And then, after about 22 seconds, I stopped to catch my breath - my level of cardiovascular fitness was not cut out for this challenge. The security screening area was soon in sight. "Fast Track!" I shouted at anyone who would listen.

"Can I please-please-please use Fast Track?" A uniformed man in the distance heard my plea and was already unclipping the barrier as I came hurtling towards him.

"Certainly, madam." He directed me towards the shortest queue and told me to skip it.

"Sorry - do you mind? - late for flight." I was expecting growls and tuts as I weaved my way to the top of the queue. Instead, I was met with smiles and a chorus of "of course".

I've never been able to squash everything into that little plastic bag so I stuff things into the bowels of my suitcase and hope for the best. There was no time to be rumbled today, though. "Look, there's a new cosmetics set in there," I said to the screening officer, "you can just take it".

She had another idea. "You just focus on getting your shoes and coat back on and I'll take care of the rest."

She unwrapped the contraband cosmetics and somehow got them into the plastic bag.

"God bless you," I said for the hundredth time. I was beginning to feel like the Pope.

And with that I was on the home stretch. My wheelie bag was slowing me down so I picked it up and cradled it like one would a child. And then I ran like my life depended on it.

Every corner presented another stretch.

I felt like I was in a science fiction film, running through time zones. My bag of liquids collapsed en route and a man ran alongside me, relay-race style, to pass back the baton of Clarins under eye concealer.

Finally, I could see the gate in the distance. I suppose this is the point in the story where I recount a heroic last-ditch, second-wind effort.

No, it didn't happen that way. Even with my goal in sight I was forced to collapse against a vending machine for a breather while inwardly incanting a Thich Nhat Hnah mantra.

A flight controller was passing by the otherwise empty gate when I at last got there. "Ish sho shorry - heeeeEEE."

My salivary glands had gone into shutdown and my fine motor skills were not at their finest. Was I having a stroke? I gave my fingers and toes a little wiggle as a precautionary measure while he made a call.

"Okay . . . okay . . ." was all I heard before he put the phone down. He looked up. "You're lucky," he said. "There was an issue with the fuel. I think someone's praying for you." I considered dropping to my knees in thanks, but that would just be weird.

I was prepared for the stern reproach of the crew, but they weren't angry with me. They were rooting for me. I was welcomed aboard like someone who had just crossed the finishing line of a marathon. "That's your seat," said one of the flight attendants pointing to the front row. "Let me take your bags." Did I mention that I had flouted the 10kg limit with two bags?

connected

I don't think I've ever felt so connected to my fellow man. Screw falling in love or meeting The One - it's moments like this that make you feel most alive, moments when you fall in love with everyone. I was carried by the kindness of strangers that day. Every single person I met had conspired to get me on that flight. I was so grateful I could have cried.

We've all had experiences like this, times when our faith in human nature has been restored. These days I don't feel like anything needs to be restored. I've met enough angels to conclude that people are becoming kinder. The old systems are crumb-ling. Pay it forward has become a way of life. The age of transparency has trampled out the last generation's "trust nobody" doctrine. Ryanair really are nicer.

Elsewhere, leading thinkers have made a study of it. Cognitive scientist Stephen Pinker writes about it in The Better Angels of our Human Nature. Philosopher Alain de Botton reckons we are in times of "moral progress". I stared out the window all the way to Berlin. It's an exciting time to be alive.

'Fast Track!' I shouted at anyone who would listen

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