Three Tips for Handling the Unexpected

Do you ever have one of those déjà vu moments?  You know, that feeling that you have been a certain situation before?  Well, it happened to me today. 

My last scheduled flight of 2009 occurred today.  It’s a typical flight from Tennessee to Virginia by way of North Carolina – or so I thought.  The skies were clear in Nashville, but alas, the complete opposite weather conditions were looming along the east coast. 

Thus, the day of delays and domino effect that ensues as flight after flight is cancelled.

My déjà vu moment?  I was on a similar trip out west this same time last year and experienced the record snowfall in Washington state.  And you guessed it…flight delays and cancellations.

You know, it’s funny.  For those of us who rely on airplanes as often as SUV’s to get us from point A to point B for business, you would think we would reach a point to understand that sometimes weather happens and when it does, there really isn’t anything you can do about it. 

But, we’re human, and that’s just not always the case.  When conditions like this happen, it creates such a classroom on human behavior.

My morning flight began after a cancelled flight then a 1 ½ delay on the rescheduled flight.  After boarding, we sat on the tarmac for another 45 minutes waiting to be cleared for departure by air traffic control.  The airline (which shall remain nameless), offered beverages to those who wanted them and even threw in a snack for us to munch on.

Once we were airborne and the official beverage service began, the flight attendants offered apologies that there were out of water and coffee.  Understandable, right (at least to some degree)?  Well, not so for the woman sitting across from me.  When the flight attendant told there was no coffee but offered a substitute instead, she scoffed [loudly] and completely turned her back to the flight attendant and faced the window.  She then told him to “go away”.  Hmmm..interesting response to a trivial circumstance.

Later, while waiting for leg #2 of the day’s trip, flights were continually getting shifted from gate to gate and departure times were literally a moving target, I witnessed another great moment for humanity.

A lone flight attendant was trying to manage two departing flights at the same gate and announced clearly to the standing room only crowd what order the flights would be handled and the process by which passengers could address any other needs.  Sadly, she had to make that announcement three times over a 10 minute span because people were not listening. 

Finally, she came across the intercom and said, “Folks, I’m sorry this is so frustrating for you, but there is just one of me and I’m doing the best I can.  Will you PLEASE be patient.  Believe me, we WANT to get you to your destination too”  Hmmm…another interesting glimpse into how we deal with the unexpected.

Now please hear me.   I’m certainly not a saint when it comes to combating the frustrations that can accompany a weather-induced day.  I definitely have my moments of exasperation.  Bu today, my stress level was okay.  Fortunately, I had planned all day to get to my destination.

But you know, I really don’t think the men and women who service our flights daily secretly enjoy watching the stress and frustration we experience on days like this.  It’s a tough day for them too.

So what did I learn on my “commute” today?

1.       Separate the big things from the little things.
In a day where fog eclipsed visibility, I’m thankful to have simply arrived safely.  I was not a statistic today.  Isn’t that the bigger picture on a day like today?

2.       Remember you are not alone and keep that in perspective.
I am curious to know the formula that could calculate the number of people and flights impacted by today’s weather woes.  The domino effect is vivid as you think of the chain reaction created by multiple flight changes.  It wasn’t just my flight that was messed up today.  And what does that mean?  There are a MANY people around me who are potentially on edge, frustrated and reacting to stress.  And let’s face it, they probably aren’t handling it the most productive way.  I need to be on my guard. 

3.       Remember what you can do something about and do it.
The art of customer service is never tested more than when the unexpected occurs.  While I may not be able to change my circumstance, and let’s face it, that is frustrating.  However, I can control how I respond to the situation and others.  Do I keep my cool?  Do I offer grace to the service employees who are trying to help me? 

 All’s well that ends well.  I [finally] made it to Virginia.  It was several hours later than originally planned but I made it.  And I am pretty sure there are crews of airline workers along the east coast who are equally glad the day has come to an end.  My thanks to the friendly ones who helped me arrive safely. 

 Now, let’s say a prayer for that return flight!

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