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Guess Who’s Not Coming To Dinner?

By Joey Havens

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“We have reassigned your seat to someone else and the flight is closed!” the airline agent firmly stated. This just kept ringing in my ears along with “We will see you in Dallas,” chanted by my three team members waving, smiling and boarding the flight just in front of me. This is when it really hit me—no I will not be having dinner with them in Dallas tonight as planned.  It even crossed my mind the agents were playing a joke on me at the prodding of my team members who are not beyond such trickery.

In over 30 years of flying commercial, I have never had my seat given away. NEVER! I am peculiar about flying and I have always preferred boarding in the final boarding call.  When CeCe travels with me, she is always encouraging me to get in line. As soon as she heard this story she quipped, “never again for me, I’m boarding with my group!”

When I inquired as to how this could have happened, the agents quickly replied that I had not boarded on the final boarding call.  I challenged them with the fact I had been standing 15 feet away and we never got the standard call, “Final boarding, all ticketed passengers must board at this time.” 

Airline: Yes we did

Me: Do you record them? Play it back. 

Airline: We do not have time and the flight is closed. We can book you on the next flight leaving at 6:06 today.

Me: You did not do a final boarding call and you know it.

Airline: We called groups 5 & 6 and all groups please board at this time.

Me:  That is not a final boarding call and you should be able to see that I am checked in for the flight. 

Airline: You must have checked in online.  You must be present here 15 minutes before boarding.

Me: I have been here for an hour and a half.  I checked in online and again at the airport.  I even checked luggage onto this flight so you must have known I was in the airport.  How do you just reassign my seat to a standby without a final boarding call?

Airline:  You did not board with your group, we reassigned it, you were not here 15 minutes before boarding, the flight is closed, do you want a seat on the next flight?

That’s the short and clean version of our discussion which ended with me sitting at the airport another five hours to catch the next flight. I have learned a new habit. On that flight which was supposed to depart at 6:06 but was more than an hour late, I checked in with the agent when the flight started boarding. “I’m here and I will be boarding on the last call.” “No problem, Mr. Havens,” he replied.  I did the same on my return flight from Dallas which caused great glee with my team members who were taking my picture as I checked in with the agent once they started announcing the beginning of the boarding process. 

On the day my seat was given away, I had plenty of time to reflect on my comedy of errors as I sat in the airport. I realized the situation (late flight combined with what appeared to be inexperienced agents) was not normal and the boarding process changed due to the situation. The original flight was about 45 minutes late and the agents were turning it around as fast as possible. They were calling the passengers up in rapid-fire order and they did call for all groups with the last two groups.  Clinging to my old habits caused me to overlook this disruption and the altered boarding process. I completely own it. It’s my fault I missed the flight and dinner with my team. I ignored the disruption and stayed in my comfort zone. Hey, it’s the way I have always done it and it has NEVER failed me.  

I realize how my actions and the predictable outcome relate so much to the challenges for us today in business. The risk of waiting has never been greater. The risk of clinging to what we have always done has never been greater. The risk of ignoring change around us has never been greater. 

There will be many firms and businesses that miss the flight to future growth and opportunities because they are blind to the transformation around us. The firms, businesses and individuals who continue to wait to learn, innovate and adapt are at serious risk of missing the flight and the next one too. I’m afraid I’m not the only one who is going to miss dinner.