Sorry to use a less than pleasant metaphor, but it seemed fitting. In the crappiest of situations [<- I’m editing my potty mouth for family friendly reading], the most amazing people bloom. Stress can bring out the best and the worst in people. And I’ve really got to hand it to these airport attendants, because they are required to respond to stress with their best, even when all the guests around them are responding with their worst. I experienced a similar position while working at Disney World… which is why I escaped to the stock rooms, despite the pre-sunrise shift start.
Yesterday, I got a good example of how well they perform their jobs, even when everyone is grumpy and thinks their problem is the most important one – which I’m sure happens daily at every airport. After completely loading our flight to Boston and taxi-ing out to the runway, we found ourselves towards the end of the longest line of planes I have ever seen, all waiting to take off, one at a time. The entire airport was backed up due to poor weather earlier that morning. We waited in line for a good hour and a half before receiving the announcement from the pilot that some of the crew had now gone over their legal flight time due to the delay. Though it was almost our turn to take off, we had to turn around and go back to the terminal, unload everyone, and wait for either a new crew or new paperwork. People weren’t thrilled. Ironically, some of the grumpiest people were those whose final destination was Boston – people who ended up arriving a few hours late after the plane received new paperwork to stop in Orlando and pick up a different crew. Meanwhile, about 20-25 guests – all of those who had international connections that they would now miss – were left on the ground in Dallas to be assigned new flights that would hopefully not ruin whatever plans we had by getting us there anywhere from a few hours to a full day later.
I am now completely aware of how I respond to stressful situations, this flight crisis having rounded out a half dozen instances of close observation. First, I panic inwardly while trying to remain calm on the outside. This results in a very “deer-in-the-headlights” look that probably terrifies children. Next, I fight an overwhelming urge to curl into the fetal position and cry. Because adulting is hard and being a fetus seems easier. Sometimes, I lose the battle. Next, I have to talk to someone, even if its just an email or text. Putting things in writing has always helped me clear my head and gain a little perspective. Finally, I calm down. For real. Which usually includes me laughing hysterically at the problem, despite the fact that it is still a problem. It’s not a bad process. I’d like to streamline it a little, maybe cut out the about-to-burst-into-tears section and shrink the deer-in-the-headlights part a bit, but I can usually go from panic to calm within a 2- to 24-hour period, so there are worse things.
Oh, and food often plays a part. Around the laughing stage, I develop a craving for fries.
I think what is really important to me is that I make sure my response to stress never contributes to someone else’s stress. Maybe it’s just a result of having worked in customer service for a few years, but I find myself unable to be rude or whiny or demanding directly to any customer service attendant, even if I have the “right” to be upset about the situation. Here’s the thing: 99% of the time, it’s not their fault. This poor guy who is trying to rebook 25 people on international flights is not responsible for the poor weather, the airport traffic, or the crew slipping into overtime. He’s just been assigned to fix it. And as stressed out as I was about making it to Iceland without losing half my savings, as stressed out as the girl next to me was about getting to Scotland to meet her boyfriend, as stressed out as the guy next to her was about being on time to his first class in Frankfurt the next morning, Michael of jetBlue had to be more stressed than us all. He had to take on everyone’s stress at once!
Granted, there are situations where a representative knows absolutely nothing about their job, doesn’t care about your problem, or is just plain rude for no reason. But those situations are pretty rare, if we are being honest. Most of the time, they are just doing their best to help you out and make it through the day. So I challenge you: be a daisy in the pile of manure. When everyone else is acting like the most important piece of poo in the world, stand out for a good reason. Smile. Be polite. Be encouraging and understanding even. Be grateful! You may find that your positive attitude will spread to others, and who knows – you might be the reason someone gets out of bed tomorrow and decides they don’t hate their job. The world has enough whiners, complainers, and gripers. Daisies smell decidedly better.