Last week I was airborne, flying to Nashville for a must-attend meeting at 8:30 Saturday morning. My flight was scheduled to arrive in Nashville at 7:30 Friday night. Everything went fine, until it fell apart.
It all started about an hour out of Salt Lake City when the captain came on and asked, in that practiced, nothing-to-worry-about voice, if there were any doctors on board.
Two hands went up, and both were hurried to the back of the plane with what looked a bit like urgency to me.
The uh-oh vibe went through the aircraft. It was difficult to see this ending well.
About ten minutes later our Captain casually advised us that everything was fine, except that a flight attendant was suffering from an in-flight medical emergency and we would be making a brief unscheduled stop in Wichita, Kansas. But everything’s fine.
So we landed, and EMT’s entered the plane. The flight attendant was removed, walking under his own power, but hooked up to a lot of wires and tubes.
Then came the update. We were now down a flight attendant, and the TSA requires a fixed number of flight attendants on each flight. Wichita isn’t exactly a major airline hub, so there were no extra flight attendants available. Some were being flown in (I’m not making this up) from Atlanta. We were invited to get off the plane, since the delay would now be a minimum of three hours.
Wichita, Kansas has a nice terminal. The two-man staff at the Chick-Fil-A was a little shaken, though, when about a hundred passengers lined up to order waffle fries.
About an hour later came the next announcement. Due to a falling domino trail of problems, we weren’t going anywhere. The airline would put us all up for the night, and we’d now be leaving around nine tomorrow (Saturday) morning.
Grumpiness ensued. My must-attend meeting was toast. Other travelers kvetched about the inconvenience this was causing friends, family, plans for weekend revelry, etc. I may have been one of the kvetchers.
Of course the airline couldn’t control the emergency, or where the plane had to land, and they put us up for the night in a Hilton, which was pretty cool. Nevertheless, we merrily griped away.
Then I noticed a woman behind the counter, trying to deal with irate passengers who were looking for an airline employee to yell at. Hadn’t I seen her earlier as a passenger on our flight?
Actually, yes. She was an airline employee taking advantage of some travel perks to go to Nashville for the weekend. When things went dicey she didn’t complain, she offered her services on the ground to help any way she could.
As I talked with her she was simultaneously juggling about four requests from the clearly overwhelmed Wichita gate crew. They don’t get many situations like this in central Kansas. She brought some order to the grumpy chaos, she did it with a smile, and she didn’t have to be doing any of it.
I thanked her for her help that night, and went away embarrassed that only a few minutes earlier I had been one of the grouches.
I’ve long been convinced that the talent of noticing faults in the personalities or actions of others is the most overrated skill on earth. We all think we’ve struck some sort of gold in recognizing that someone else isn’t perfect or a situation hasn’t turned out quite as advertised. Once discovered, we like to proclaim our insights as loudly as possible, and expect admiration from those around us for our superior instincts and intellect.
All of which is bunk. On that night there was only one passenger deserving admiration, and the rest of us acted in varying degrees like a bunch of losers. The flight, by the way, was Delta 2924, Salt Lake City to Nashville. The passenger-turned-abuse-absorbing gate agent was Tami Gould. Tami, I’m going to do my best to remember you the next time something doesn’t go the way I like. And instead of griping, I’ll see if I can just keep my mouth shut and fix something. And maybe smile while doing it.