Always be nice
When faced with adversity on the road, always be nice. Firm is OK, but never angry. By and large the person in front of you has only limited ability to help you. But they don’t have to use even that limited ability if you’re rude. We have many stories of how people have gone way out of their way to help when we’re pleasant.
We were heading home from a trip to Europe, on the last leg back to the Bay Area, with a stop in Frankfurt. The flight from Rome had been delayed but we still had a good shot at making the connection. The flight attendants asked passengers who had plenty of time for their connections to stay seated so those of us who would be rushing could make a break once we arrived at the gate. We collected our carry-on and the adrenalin was pumping. We landed and then … sat on the tarmac for an hour. There was no available gate. We watched out the window as what we imagined was our flight left the gate. Then, we had a gate. Finally, we sadly trudged out of the plane and went looking for the dreaded “transfer desk”.
You normally saunter past that desk without a thought, which is either vacant or packed with anxious travelers. When I see the alternately animated and dejected crowd there I think, “Oh, Zen practice time for them.” Well, this time, we were they.
We ended up behind a well-dressed middle-aged man who was very agitated. He was almost yelling at the agent. “This is simply NOT acceptable! You have to fix this! I must get home on schedule for important meetings! I am a very important customer of this airline!” He went on and on, hardly giving the agent a chance to talk. In the end he stormed away, grasping a hotel voucher and a reservation for the flight the next morning, “You believe me, the management will hear from me about this terrible service.”
We stepped up while the agent girded herself for the next onslaught. We really didn’t have any onslaught in us. Our first words were, “This must be an awful day for you. Yikes, that last guy was some piece of work.” She smiled and relaxed some. We commiserated a little. We told her we knew that there was only so much she could do, but if there was any way at all that she could get home that night, we would be really grateful.
She said, “There isn’t really much I can do,” but then she paused and started tapping her keyboard examining screen after screen. We looked on hopefully. After a few minutes she leaned just a little closer and in a quieter, slightly conspiratorial voice, said, “You know, there is a flight to LA that shows as closed, but I happen to know that it hasn’t actually left yet, and there are a couple of seats.” She certainly had our attention. “If you’re willing to run and don’t care if your baggage is with you, I think I can put you on that flight. Once you’re in LA there are plenty of seats to get to San Francisco and that will only take another hour or so.”
We quickly agreed, breathed a huge sigh of relief and thanked our angel/agent profusely. We were going to make it across the pond. She quickly issued the paperwork with instructions to the gate far across the terminal; we headed out at a trot, carry-ons flopping. Well, for the first bit, we did some serious trotting, then slowed a little, alternately walking quickly, and jogging. As we turned down the last concourse, we saw two gate agents running toward us, calling our names. We met them and they ushered us to the gate, checked us in and we found ourselves standing in the airplane aisle panting and sweating lightly with an entire planeload of seated passengers looking up at the flushed couple who had delayed their departure. Those in First Class were, of course, less concerned as they had simply opted for a second glass of champagne.
The rest of the flight and the connection to SFO were uneventful, though we did toast the ticket agent several times. We slept in our own bed that night, which is more than the very important man in front of us in the line could say.