Scene: A Dallas-bound airplane leaving out of National Airport in Washington, D.C. There is not a single seat available.
The pilot makes an announcement that one of the seat cushions is wet and the plane cannot be cleared for take-off until it is replaced. I’m surprised that such a minor detail would delay a flight, but how long can it take to bring a seat cushion over and install it? After all, every flight crew reminds you how seat cushions can serve as flotation devices, so they must be easy to remove.
No other seat cushion is available, and unless the airplane has every box checked on the flight list, it’s not leaving. The problem is resolved somehow, the pilot announces that there is “weather in the area” (isn’t there weather all over, all the time?) and take-offs have slowed down. We wind up in a staging area, waiting our turn. I watch another dozen airplanes slide in a staggered row next to us.
I have one hour and 20 minutes between flights in Dallas. The minutes tick away. Flashbacks of two weeks ago, at an airport just 35 miles from this one, begin to appear on the wall of my mind. The “we’ll board shortly” that wound up taking three extra days to get me back home.
We leave one hour and 30 minutes late. The pilot says he will “make up some of the time in the air.” I am not convinced.
If I do not make my connection, three things will happen:
- I will have to spend the night in Dallas. My connecting flight is the last flight out.
- The class I am scheduled to teach on Thursday morning will not take place. The client is new to me, and I am aware that some clients refuse to accept such things as airplane delays.
- There will be cranky people.
We arrive late in DFW. I bolt for the gate in a different concourse–scrambling as fast as I can pulling a carry-on and a messenger bag. Sky Link–up the elevator, jump in as the door closes on my shoulder.We (the bag and I) make it. Get to the right concourse, dash down the escalator, down the hall, around the corner and . . . I’ve missed the plane by two minutes.
I’m angry, but the woman who offers to re-book me is not at fault. She didn’t give the go-ahead to the departing plane. And she is trying to be helpful. A mob gathers behind me. Threats are shouted. When she insists we line up and she will help us in turn, someone demands a supervisor for “letting the plane get away.” Name-calling from the crowd grows. I’m embarrassed that people think this is acceptable behavior.
I look at the beleaguered woman and feel sorry for her. I’m in a bad spot, yes, but it is not this woman’s fault. This is the time to depend on manners. Manners help you remain polite even when you are unhappy or inconvenienced. Yes it is hard to control yourself, but manners are about control and thinking about the other person.
There are events that happen that cannot be controlled. Bad stuff that is disappointing, difficult, and frustrating will happen whether you want it to or not. Acting out will not fix anything. Being polite may not fix the problem, but it is always a boost to your self esteem. Treating people well is a basic behavior we all want shown to us. We get it by showing it to others. Bad stuff happens and no one is to blame. Even if you want to blame someone.
In the hour it took me to negotiate my way through the problem, three different people looked at me and said, “You are the only person I’ve talked to this year who understands that stuff happens sometime, that it was not our company deliberately screwing you over.” Three times in an hour. Including from a hotel clerk who could not get a shuttle to me because they were all somewhere else at the moment. People had threatened to sue because all the hotel shuttles were somewhere else.
Now would be the perfect time to reveal that I got to stay in a hotel suite for free, or that I got re-booked into first class. None of that happened. I got three hours sleep in a no-name hotel, the hotel shuttle left for the airport so early I did not get breakfast, my seat was in the back of the plane. Being polite to the over-worked is not done to manipulate perqs, it is done because good manners make the world a nicer place to be, and the only way to get nice is to be nice.
Yes, complaining about bad treatment is fine, but so is accepting that sometimes being kind when you don’t want to be is an excellent exercise in self-control, for no other reason that your own self-esteem.
—Quinn McDonald knows that life on the road is not romantic or exciting, but gritty.