waitWhen I arrived at Gate K9 at O’Hare yesterday, it wasn’t a pretty picture. American Airlines flight 1400, delayed by an hour, looked completely full. A long line stretched from the gate to the McDonald’s across the hall.

Even if they could squeeze one more passenger on the plane, they’d probably charge me. The agent would have been well within her rights to do that, since I had a reservation on the next flight to Orlando, which left two hours later.

Then I remembered that a little niceness can take you a long way.

I smiled. I asked if it was a full flight.

“Completely,” the agent exhaled.

“How about the standby list?”

“Twenty four people,” she replied. “You’re not Executive Platinum, are you?”

“No,” I sighed. “Just haven’t seen my kids all weekend, and was hoping to get home a little early.”

She gave me a “there’s-no-hope” look. Which is when I decided to try a little humor.

“I’ll take the jumpseat,” I offered. “I’ll sit in the toilet. I’ll stand.”

“I’ll add you to the list,” she said. “But it doesn’t look good.”

I returned to the waiting area, more or less resigned to take my original flight.

But then I remembered: Gate agents have a lot of control over waiting lists. And, although passengers often forget it, airline employees are people too. So a personal connection with a gate agent — even a shared laugh — can make a difference.

And guess what? It did.

After general boarding ended, I watched the standby list scroll by on the monitors.

ELLI/C was number one on the screen. In other words, if there was a free seat on the plane, I would get it. And I did.

No change fee, either.

Some of you might be thinking to yourself: “She probably recognized him.” I don’t think so. These gate agents deal with thousands of people a day, and they don’t have to time to remember what a rogue travel writer looks like.

So here I am, at cruising altitude, thinking about how this could have possibly gone my way. My only explanation is that I was nice.

I didn’t demand a seat on the plane. Didn’t beg. Didn’t threaten. I just asked nicely, and I made it clear that I understood that I was entitled to nothing.

At a time like this, when terminals are full and tempers are frayed, a little nice can take you a long way.

Try it. You might be surprised.

(Photo credit: Mary-Lynn/Flickr)