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Attitudes Swing Faster Than the Winter Storm

By Joey Havens

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As I was returning from the MFG meeting in sunny Naples, FL, a few weeks ago, a fierce winter storm was sweeping across the southeast and leaving in its wake freezing temperatures, lots of sleet, freezing rain and ice. As I got to my connecting flight in Atlanta for my final destination of JAN (Jackson, MS), flights were being canceled all along the terminal. I even heard people talking about rescheduling for flights from cancellations that were made late the day before.

I was so grateful when I got to my gate and saw that we were scheduled to leave on time.  Everyone was so excited to be one of the flights that would get out. Then, received an update that we would be delayed 20 minutes for our plane to get to the gate and de-board. Thankfully, that was the only delay until we boarded in what must have been record time.

As we sat onboard prepared for take-off, we received notice that we had a problem with paper work and it would only be a few more minutes. I must admit—I’ve heard that line before and it is so hard to give them the benefit of doubt. Regardless, what an unfortunate time for a paper problem when we have a winter storm bearing down on us and we know we only have a small window of time to get airborne. 

Well good news, after the delay we still took off and everyone was so excited to finally get home. But 59 minutes into this 68 minute flight, we hear from the pilot again. Jackson has just shut down the airport due to icing and we must turn around. We missed landing our destination by nine minutes. The stewardess had apologized numerous times as well as the pilot on the initial announcement that we were being turned around, but those seemed to be unheard.

On the flight back to Atlanta, you could hear the grumbling and feel the discontent growing exponentially. When we got back to Atlanta, we actually de-boarded exactly one gate down from where we had started two and half hours ago. Thought that was very ironic and maybe a little humorous, but I kept that to myself as we de-boarded.

As the gate agent was working to give us updates, one lady continued to scream at him that she had to be in Jackson tonight. He listened and asked her to please not scream as he was doing all he could do. He then informed us that all the flights from Atlanta to Jackson tomorrow were already full.  That’s when several people went to talking rather loudly and there were a few choice words used that you will not find in your Sunday school lesson. It seemed that people began to feed off of each other (mob mentality) and noise level just got louder. As I observed this total loss of control of people’s attitudes, I noticed how contagious a negative attitude and anger are.   

In fact, I am now convinced that a negative attitude might spread faster than hot butter on one of my grandmother’s fluffy hot biscuits. Oh, I would love to taste one of those again, God bless her soul.  But the oddest thing about the loud venting, anger and simply bad attitudes is that it only made each person’s situation worse. 

The gate agents were certainly on their heels which kept them from focusing on timely solutions.  This happens in business too often, where we have a crisis or missed deadline and we let the negative situation hamper our ability to focus on real solutions.  It has to be someone’s fault, right?  Who can we blame and/or vent on? In addition, our negative attitudes hinder anyone even wanting to help us. 

As I watched this continue to unfold, with no coherent communications, I eased up to a gate agent who was also observing.  I smiled and shared I was sorry that we all had this dilemma on our hands.  She smiled back, and whispered, “We have another counter about to open at the middle concourse if you want to try rebooking faster.”  And I thanked her for the Intel.

As I slipped away to the other counter to make new travel plans, I smiled as I continued to listen to people who were venting instead of working to find solutions. With the help of the uncrowded customer service desk and my executive assistant, Katie, who had worked her magic as well, I eventually got home that night. Positive attitudes do matter. A positive attitude might not prevent a problem, but it doesn’t create more of them, that’s for sure.