I must have an honest or welcoming face. Or perhaps I just appear non-threatening. I’m not sure what it is about me that makes people approach me in airports and on the street but it seems to happen all the time.
A couple months ago, I was on my way to NYC to visit my brother for a week. While waiting for my flight at the Minneapolis airport, a man slid over next to me and asked if I was flying to JFK. I responded honestly and told him yes. He then asked if it was my final destination. Again, I said yes. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I didn’t expect the next bit.
“This is my mother-in-law. She is from Morocco and is flying home. She doesn’t speak English. Could you take her to the international terminal at JFK once you land?” he said.
My response was, surprisingly, “Yes, I’d be happy to.”
So after our flight, we walked silently from our gate to baggage claim. I felt terrible that I couldn’t talk to her and she couldn’t talk to me. We smiled at each other, nodded, but couldn’t converse. Until I realized that we could.
I took out my phone, opened my browser to Google Translate, typed the question, “How long were you with family in Minneapolis?”, and hit translate. My question was instantly translated into Arabic. I handed her the phone, pointed to the screen, and she smiled. “2 months,” she replied. For the next 30 minutes, I communicated to her through my phone. I explained the AirTrain process, explained what she would need to do a couple hours later when her airline would come on duty, and where she could wait. When I told her I needed to leave, she hugged and kissed me.
This is a normal occurrence, so it wasn’t strange to me that on Monday, while we were waiting for our flight to LAX from O’Hare, a woman asked me to take her picture in front of the JetBlue gate. I took a couple pictures of her with her phone. She thanked me, and then proceeded to show me all of the pictures and video on her phone of her family, time at the beach in Puerto Rico where, I assume, she was from, and photos of her son who had competed in a cooking/pastry/dessert competition in Chicago that week. She spoke to me in Spanish; I replied in English.
After she and I had our conversation, I turned to Dan who was laughing. Yes, I told him, this is what happens to me in airports.