08/02/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Cure Airport Blues: Fly Nice!

It all began as I waited for the first of two connecting flights that would bring me from my home in New Jersey to a business conference in Palm Springs. Across from my seat, a young couple were examining their tickets and sighing with resignation. The woman looked nervous. To my right, a tattooed man in glasses was wringing his hands.


"The newspapers aren't in yet," the tattooed man suddenly said. "I wanted to get the Post, but the lady said they're late."

I looked over to confirm the man was talking to me. One of his tattoos was a python -- this guy would definitely not get by with Sudoku.

"I don't see how we're getting out of here on time," he added, even though we were still 40 minutes from departure and the flight time hadn't changed. To him, the glass wasn't just half empty; it was bone dry.

I was still bleary-eyed from my early morning alarm and didn't need the negative energy, so I politely excused myself.

As I passed by the closest gift store, I saw the saleslady stacking fresh newspapers, including the Post.

I picked one up...then impulsively bought another.

"Moody Pythonskin" was no longer in the terminal when I got back, but when I boarded the plane, I saw him in the first class cabin flipping through a Sky Mall catalog -- I'd gotten there just in time.

"Your Post," I said, holding it out for him. He looked up in confusion, then saw the paper. His eyes widened.

"Uhh...thanks," he said awkwardly, fishing into his pocket. I waved him off and strode to my row in coach by the wing, feeling good about my minor-league mitzvah.

Some feed the hungry. Some comfort the afflicted. I relieve the bored.

As I settled into my seat, the young man from the waiting area sat down next to me. A large woman finished off our row.

"Weren't you traveling with someone?" I asked the man.

"We booked late, so my wife's in the back of the plane...She hasn't flown before."

"Why don't I switch with her so you guys can sit together?" I said.

"She's in a middle seat," he said, as if revealing a terminal condition.

"I don't mind. Really."

Reliever of the Bored, Uniter of the Separated. Who needs Iron Man?

When I finished scanning the newspaper, I offered it to my new row-mate, an empty-handed business traveler. He politely refused, but an hour into the flight, thumbing through the Sky Mall, he asked me if the offer was still good.

For someone without reading material in the middle seat of a back row on a crowded business flight to Chicago, I suddenly found myself in a really good mood -- I was getting high off being nice. All the Sky Mall ceramic gargoyles, inflatable stereos, and Harry Potter wands in the world couldn't make me feel any more content.

For more on the importance kindness -- from someone actually paid to think about such things -- check out this HuffPost blog from psychologist Susan Smalley (no relation to Stuart, but I had to check)

On the final leg of my flight, a teenager and I were fortunate enough to have an empty seat between us. "Sweet," he said, plugging in headphones.

The extra elbow room may have been some kind of karmic reward, but I wasn't looking for a medal. The pleasure of being generous was reward enough...and addictive. I even considered hanging around the luggage carousel to snag someone's behemoth valise for them.

The next time you find yourself waiting at an airport terminal in a waiting-at-an-airport-terminal kind of mood, give being nice a try. It's way cheaper than coffee, and the favor often makes a return trip.