Last year a co-worker, Jeff, and I made arrangements to travel to Washington, D.C. for meetings. It happened to be the same week that Hurricane Sandy arrived in the area. Our meetings were understandably postponed, which required us to cancel our hotel and flights. The hotel was an easy, online procedure, but the Delta Airlines web server was overloaded. We opted to phone the customer service center. A pleasant woman at the airline canceled our flights, said a credit would be kept on our accounts for a future flight, and told us there would be a charge when we rescheduled.
Weeks later, when the meetings were reset, we needed to arrange new flights. Our first experience had been so painless, we decided to call the airline again and have a customer service rep help us. A congenial young man found us flights on the days and times we wanted, and kindly waived our rescheduling fee. The process took nearly 45 minutes and I was impressed with the thorough, thoughtful way we were treated. In fact, I remember thinking at the time, “I should send an email to Delta and tell them what great service we received.” In the bustle of trip preparation, I never did.
We had a short commuter flight from a local airport to Salt Lake City’s large regional airport, arriving at 8:52. Waiting to deplane, I glanced at my boarding pass to check the gate for our final flight to D.C. It was at the opposite end of the airport as far away as was humanly possible. Then I saw something that gave me a jolt of adrenalin our flight left at 9:00, fewer than 10 minutes.
I flashed the ticket at my companion, which he acknowledged with a gasp. We made a concentrated effort to worm our way out of the back of the plane. Being small, older and female paid off in this situation. I squeezed through tight places and gentlemen stepped back politely to let me through.
When we were off the plane, however, all my advantages turned against me. At a foot taller and more than a decade younger, Jeff hit the ground running and I could barely keep up. At 9:00 we were still more than five minutes away from our gate. Pumping my short legs as fast as possible (a tall walking partner used to refer to me as “Gimli”) and gasping for breath, I was suddenly angry. “The idiot that booked our flights should have known better than to schedule them so close together.” I thought. “What a twit! I’m going to call Delta and give them a piece of my mind the first chance I get.”
About this time Jeff, who was 20 feet ahead of me, suddenly stopped and pulled out his ticket. “Look at this,” he said waving it. “Boarding starts at 9:00. The flight doesn’t take off until 9:45.”
All of my anger disappeared in a heartbeat (under the circumstances, probably my fastest heartbeat ever), and I felt supremely foolish. I’ve laughed about it many times since Jeff and I barreling through the airport until I was certain I’d have a stroke all because of my silly error. Other aspects of the experience, though, make me squirm. I’m ashamed of myself for two things.
First, I am embarrassed that my knee-jerk reaction was to blame someone else for my mistake. While it’s human nature to look outside ourselves for problem causes, I really am old enough to know better.
Even worse was my failure to commend someone who had given me exemplary service. The lack of common politeness and courteous thanks in our society is a bit of a pet peeve with me. It makes me feel lower than a snake belly to realize I fall into that offending category.
I’ve thought about it long and hard. Perhaps both situations could be prevented by following one simple rule—Slow Down.
- Take the time to review and double check facts.
- Remember that very few problems are actually life and death—even though in the rush of panic they may seem so.
- Make the time to write thank-you notes, to listen intently, to be courteous to others.
I’d love to hear your ideas. What do you do to avoid these types of problems?