When you are flying with children other passengers tend to search for a seat far from the possibility of crying or disruptive kids. A 12-hour flight would have the parents praying for a miracle. The miracle in this story comes in the form of Muhammad Ali. This dad never would have imagined The Champ would be the one to help him in his time of need.
“I was flying from Los Angeles to Tokyo where I was stationed in the United States Navy. I had with me, my three-year-old son and my newborn one-month-old son. Caring for two kids on a long intercontinental flight was a real challenge, especially since I had not known I was going to be the only adult.
Shortly after getting to cruising speed and altitude, the Chief attendant announced the famous boxer Muhammad Ali was on the plane and wanted to take the time to meet passengers. This was a Boeing 747 with seats in the middle, five if I recall, and seats on either side of the aircraft, probably three on each side. Ali walked down the right side of the aircraft shaking hands and signing autographs. He walked all the way to the back of the aircraft, then headed forward coming up the left side.
I was in coach, middle section next to the left aisle, and almost all the way to the bulkhead before First Class. When Ali reached me, he immediately saw the challenge I was having with two very young children. Instead of passing on by, as most celebrities would have done, he asked if it was alright for him to sit with me for a while. Muhammad Ali sat with my kids and I for hours, playing with the kids and talking about life. He was as nice a guy as I had ever met. Finally, when we were a little more than two hours out of Tokyo, Ali excused himself and said he needed to get some sleep because he had a big fight the next day.
About ten minutes later, this older gentleman came back to my seat, introduced himself as ‘Bundini’ and said, ‘The Champ sent me back to help you take care of the kids.’
He brought with him pin-on buttons, signed photographs, and all kinds of Ali memorabilia.
Mr. Bundini told me if I ever was in a town where Ali was getting ready to fight, I should stop by the training camp and ask for him. Several years later, Ali was getting ready for a fight in the Washington DC area where my family and I were living. On a chance, I gather my two sons up and off we drove to the hotel where Ali had his training camp set up. When I went to the security guy at the entrance to the rooms reserved for Ali, I told him I was looking for Mr. Bundini, and to tell him I was the guy from the airplane trip to Tokyo.
About ten minutes later, here comes Mr. Bundini. He actually remembered my name and invited us to come in to watch the Champ spar. He took the boys and I right up to the ring where we watched. Finally, Ali decided to take a break.
He saw us from across the ring, said loudly, ‘John! It’s good to see you.’
He shook my oldest son’s hand, patted the younger on the head, then said his goodbye.
I cannot imagine a more interesting airplane trip story.”