When I started accumulating frequent traveler perks at work, I took my mother on a trip to Spain.  (From this point forward, we’ll refer to Mom as “Flo” because that’s her name,)  Why Spain?  Delta had a major Skymiles special, so there you have it.  Off to Spain I go with the Flo.  Flo had to get her very first passport for this trip.  She was 59 and 9/11 was a current event.

We had a layover in Paris Charles de Gaulle.  Of course we missed the connection to Madrid because that’s what people do in CDG, but we had ample time to buy the outlet adapter we forgot to pack and to treasure hunt for blister pads.  It’s worth noting, while Flo’s new shoes are painful, her new sweater with an enormous American flag across the front is quite comfy and warm.

So the connecting flight to Madrid was my first flight with Flo on foreign soil.  It’s at this time I learned of the medical condition Aural Cognition Paralysis, or ACP.  It’s that moment when someone is speaking to you, fluently, in your mother tongue, but because there’s an accent you don’t recognize, the ear loses its ability to signal the brain that you do indeed understand every word this person is saying to you.  Aural Cognition Paralysis.  So let’s play out a scene:

  • French flight attendant speaking perfect English: Madam, would you like something to drink?
  • Flo: Pardon?
  • French flight attendant speaking perfect English: Perhaps you’d like some water, tea, apple juice?
  • Flo: I’m sorry, I only speak English.  (Flo turns to me, daughter, anxious.)  Can you tell her I just want water?
  • Donna to French flight attendant who speaks perfect English: We will both have water.  (Flight attendant places two cups of water on the tray.)
  • Flo: Can you tell her I didn’t get any ice?

Fast forward to landing in Madrid.  The flight attendants are communicating over the speaker in 3 languages fluently.  They inform us that, since we are a little late arriving, they will help us deplane in an orderly fashion so that some passengers can make their tight American Airlines connection. 

Flo is in front of me as we walk down the aisle toward the cockpit exit.  I see and hear that every passenger ahead of us is being asked “American?”  “Are you flying American?”  “American?”  And as the passengers answer yes or no, they are guided in different directions so that some can make their American Airlines connection and others can go off to immigration.  It’s Flo’s turn.  Remember we have just landed on Delta Airlines in our final destination, Madrid.  The flight attendant, still speaking perfect English, asks, “American?”  Flo replies proudly, “Why, yes I am?”  Her Aural Cognition Paralysis had been cured, but her SAI: Situational Awareness Index was deteriorating.  

So, Spain was trip 1, and we have since invaded 12 more countries with SkyMiles.  Highlights include:

  • Flo setting off the security alarm at Fountainebleau. She stepped over the barricade to study the hem on Napolean’s drapes.
  • The Wallace Sword.  She won’t…stop…talking…about missing the chance to see that sword.  She’ll be like Orson Welles.  Citizen Flo on her deathbed whispering “Wallace’s sword.”  
  • Her own namesake city, Florence.  “Well, this town is a bit of a disappointment.”  We should have taken the bus to Pompeii.”
  • Her 5-star, FREE, hotel room in Munich.  “There’s just not too much to this place, is there?”
  • That moment she was mistaken for Meryl Streep on the plane.  We so should have run with that.  
  • That beaming smile seeing Andrea Bocelli for the first time, live in Stockholm.
  • That moment–stretched out in her sleeper bed, with slippers, champagne and cashews–when she seemed the most at ease I’d seen her since dad died.

The global pandemic grounded our 2020 trip, so now we scout out a familiar place on travel shows.  “Right there, right there, remember?  We were standing right there!”  We then share stories from the trip and giggle like high school girlfriends.  

Will I be able to go with the Flo again?  She’s 78 and I’m 53.  We’ve talked about the fjords a good bit.  If we can see Wallace’s sword and some Pompeii ruins while there, it might be worth the trip.

Donna Peters is a retired Management Consulting Partner. She is the founder of The Me-Suite career coaching and leadership development services and host of The Me-Suite podcast.