It’s a familiar scene: running out of the house with thrown-together luggage, rushing to the airport only to wait in line. The parking shuttle, the security screening, the shoes coming off and on; all leading to a flying can where a child waits to kick your seat.

Most of us have experienced the mass of humanity that is the airport. Back in the golden age of travel, flying was a glamorous affair reserved for the elite, complete with lavish meals and white-glove service. Movie stars and royalty posed for pictures and wealthy passengers wore their Sunday best. Today, taking a flight is a lot like taking the bus, only with more sweatpants and less legroom. Sure, there are airlines that still offer “the royal treatment,” but in the modern era of cramped seats and overbookings, the phrase takes on a whole new meaning.

The airline industry gets its fair share of criticism — some deserved — for delays and difficult conditions. But given the millions of daily travelers that fill the skies, it’s a miracle we reach our destinations at all. The truth is, airlines are full of good people who want to do their very best for us. It just so happens that they suffer from the same stress we all do. Probably more.

That’s why I make the best of the situation. Having to fly frequently for talks and events, I try to exercise patience and take note of employees that go the extra mile for their passengers. Such was the case during a recent flight to Chicago O’Hare from the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport. Operated by United Express, the small plane held barely 50 seats, 12 narrow rows, and one attendant who took her job very seriously.

As the sole member of the cabin crew, she managed everything from the safety briefing to drink service with professionalism and grace, working her way up and down the aisle like it was the thing she was born to do. But all throughout, her face held a fatigued expression that told me this was not her first flight of the day. As she approached my row once more, she paused, smiled, and asked me how my day was going.

Almost instantly, I felt the stress of the morning roll off my back. Wanting to repay the favor, I decided to offer some kindness in return.

“You sure do a lot for one person!” I remarked.

(That was all it took.)

Her tired face changed to a look of pleasant surprise. Her whole body seemed to relax as she admitted she’d been “going it alone” since five that morning. But the smile I received in return was the real prize… and it didn’t leave her face until we touched down in Chicago. I joked about getting such great service in my economy seat. Still beaming, she looked at me and said, “On my plane, everyone sits in first class.”

A smile has power. It has the ability to acknowledge and empathize. It can calm and diffuse. It unlocks the door to strangers and opens a window to the soul. It breaks down walls and builds up trust. And in hard times, it demonstrates our capacity to care.

A smile is human.

A smile is perhaps one of the most powerful, influential and persuasive acts we can offer… no more universal way to connect with another person of any age or culture

A key ingredient for healthy and genuine relationships, it encourages dialogue and conveys feelings of happiness, hope and positivity to anyone who sees it. When you smile, you send a message to those around you that you are accepted and welcome. A smile lets customers know they are being acknowledged and that you care.

Whether flying the friendly skies or grounded at the DMV, a smile can be a valuable tool when dealing with people and a great first step in establishing rapport. It’s free to give and can be used with everyone we meet. (One size fits all.)

When we smile, we open doors, cultivate trust, and lift the spirits of those around us. When they smile back, we realize all the power and influence such a small gesture can possess.

Never underestimate the power of a smile.