All kinds of things can run through the heads of people buckling themselves into an airline seat with even a remote understanding of current high-altitude events.
But passengers on a Delta flight from the D.C. area to Atlanta got a surprise that was welcome and charming: a grinning, nonagenarian, bolo-tie-wearing former president who ambled down the aisle, apparently shaking every single passenger's hand.
The video clip of Jimmy Carter was taken by passenger James Parker Sheffield. He's the one in the video who says “What a pleasure. Thank you,” in five words summing up the collective thoughts of the Internet since it was tweeted on Thursday.
Thank you, President Carter, for reminding us what a president who exhibits kindness and grace looks like. https://t.co/yUGi2yYa25
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) June 12, 2017
⚡️ “Let Jimmy Carter's pre-flight act of kindness be an example to all politicians”https://t.co/jfvDmmwKvK
— Daphanie Brown (@TheRealDaphanie) June 12, 2017
What a lovely man you are Jimmy Carter.
— Micki Kuhlmann (@virusesrock) June 12, 2017
Carter and Sheffield and about 100 other people were sharing a flight from a D.C. area airport to Atlanta, Sheffield told Atlanta ABC-affiliate WSB-TV.
The flight was delayed slightly, and flight attendants had just announced that the cabin door was closed. In the video, flight attendants can be seen tucking away the last pieces of luggage.
“It's hard to put into words what a nice reprieve from the current political theater this moment was,” Sheffield told WSV-TV. “His enthusiasm was authentic and humble, in a way that made things feel less heavy for a moment.”
Off camera, a woman can be heard saying “I love you, Jimmy Carter.”
Occasionally, news stories will crop up that say Carter is a nice, decent guy. He does have a Nobel Peace Prize after all, “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” So he's no stranger to handshakes.
He's also taught Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., for decades, and when he announced that he was battling cancer, hundreds made pilgrimages to the church to see him, according to The Washington Post's David Weigel.
He's spent 30 years hammering homes for Habitat for Humanity and lending his celebrity to the cause.
"Delta is always proud to fly former President Carter," said Morgan Durrant, a spokesman for the airline. "His taking the time to shake hands with fellow customers is a magnanimous gesture consistent with his decades of public and philanthropic service."
Deanna Congileo, a spokeswoman for Carter, declined to give out details about his travel for security purposes. But she said the airplane handshakes are not uncommon.
“For decades since he left office, he has shaken hands with his fellow travelers on planes,” she said in a statement emailed to The Washington Post. “He enjoys it, and passengers are excited to get to interact with a former president.”
Although Carter's spokeswoman wouldn't confirm this, the Atlanta Journal Constitution hinted at another reason he presses the flesh with all the passengers: Some would undoubtedly recognize him and ask to meet him during the flight. Spending a few minutes shaking everyone's hand before the flight leaves the gate obviates a potential headache for the pilots and crew.
Carter alludes to the potential problems of flying with a dignitary in a joke with one passenger:
“It's not my fault we're late by the way.”
This post has been updated.