Business Strategy | Leadership / Management

‘After you’ — a state of mind that can save the world

Air travel brings out the worst in us, doesn't it?

I had just settled into my seat at Lambert International, heading from St. Louis to Baltimore for the MACPA's first Generational Symposium, when my phone buzzed. It was an e-mail from Southwest Airlines, pleasantly informing me that my flight to BWI had been cancelled.

At that point, there's not much you can do except get in line and try to book a seat on another flight … along with about 120 of your fellow travelers. In a situation like that, patience truly is a virtue.

Which made what happened next so infuriating.

The line I was in was being served by two Southwest attendants. One was at Gate E18, serving our flight to BWI. The other was at the adjacent E16, serving a separate flight to Washington D.C. that was leaving in 10 minutes.

I was about 10th in line to change my flight to BWI. A woman a few spots behind me decided she would try to fly into D.C. instead, and jumped to the front of the line to try to get onto the D.C. flight before it left. She tried to justify her line-butting by saying to everyone in front of her, "You're all going to Baltimore, right? Because I'm going to try to get onto this D.C. flight before it leaves."

"Sorry," my mind told me, "but that's just wrong."

As others in line expressed their displeasure, I shouted out to her, "How do you know the rest of us aren't waiting to do the same thing?" To which she answered, "Middle finger."

"OK," my traditionally non-confrontational self said, biting its tongue, "serenity now."

A couple of minutes later, a new ticket in hand, she turned to the rest of us in line, smirked, and said sarcastically, "Thank you for your understanding." The conversation then continued as follows:

  • Me (equally sarcastically): "Have a wonderful flight."
  • Her: "F**k you."
  • Me: "Kiss my ass!"

She marched off toward her gate, and I sat there stewing in my anger.

A couple of minutes later, after I had settled myself down, I replayed the incident in my mind and came to this brilliant conclusion:

"Bill, you're an idiot."

Here's why:

  • Sure, this self-centered, line-butting jackass opened a can of worms, but I dumped its disgusting contents onto everyone else in line with my pointless confrontation. What did I accomplish, other than making everyone in the vicinity feel more stressed and uncomfortable? Answer: Nothing. She got what she wanted, and I made everyone else miserable in the process.
  • Who am I to assume what she's going through? Maybe she's not a self-centered, line-butting jackass. Maybe -- for whatever reason -- she really, really needed to get home as soon as possible. Who knows what's going on in her life? Certainly not me. So shut up already, Bill.

I've talked time and time and time again about the importance -- the outright necessity -- of being nice, of seeing the best in everyone, no matter the circumstances. I believe that. In this case, I let it slip my mind. It's time I stopped being a hypocrite and practiced what I preach.

So to the line-butting woman at Gate E18 of Lambert International's Southwest terminal: I'm sorry. I had no right to question your motive or your actions. I hope you got where you were going with time to spare. Really. I mean that.

In the meantime, I'll make you a deal. Let's all think about others first from now on, OK? We'll be happier, everyone else will feel better, and the world will keep turning.



Bill Sheridan