As I write this BackPage, I’m sitting in the Louisville airport having missed my first originating flight in 33 years of flying. How many times have I cut it close before? Countless. I remember a trip to the airport in Fez in which the taxi cab driver ran out of gas on the way to the airport. He was literally flagging down other cab drivers until one was finally willing to stop and let him syphon fuel *out* of the passerby’s car so he could refill his own. Yet, in spite of all that, I somehow made the flight. And how many times have I overslept? Countless. Scramble, scramble, scramble. Throw everything in the carry-on. Race. Somehow, it always worked.


Then came today — a day I’ll remember for all my life. I arrived like always — cutting it close. But today, the TSA line was incredible. And I didn’t want to be one of THOSE passengers. You know — I didn’t want to try to cut line and be impolite. So… there I stood, counting the minutes. (And there were too many of them.) Once I was through TSA, I ran to the gate, only to see the regional jet gate operator showing no remorse. In fact, I’d characterize him as cavalier. “Nope, this one’s gone.” I explained that it was still 10 minutes until the scheduled departure. He responded, “10 minutes early is late. We close the door 15′ before departure.” Did I know that before? Had I just been lucky (or miraculously blessed) all those years prior?


So what can I learn about life as I process all this grief — and as I stand by on other flights (to try to make my Storyrunners training in Orlando)?


*** If someone asks us to make something happen and we’re unable to do so, let’s at least apologize that we’re unable to accommodate the request, then give a reasonable explanation why. I mean — the jet sat there… and I had paid for a seat on it. Couldn’t the gentleman at least have said, “Sir, if I open up the door and let you on this plane [what would happen??? It wasn’t scheduled to push back for another 10′. Why couldn’t he do it?] Your “customer” — or missionary or donor or teammate — deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. And, based on my experience today, a little remorse, even if feigned, would have gone a long way toward preventing my characterization of his company as being callous.


*** If someone asks us to make something happen, and if it’s not going to destroy the harmony of the universe, consider with all your heart and all your mind — just because it’s a rule, do you always have to follow the rule to the letter? In other words, that jet sat there idling for 10 extra minutes. I love it that the flight attendant was taking care of safety stuff. But… I’m a fairly sensitive guy. I wouldn’t have interrupted her much. Bottom line: See if you can make it happen. And if you can, please consider doing it.


*** If things go south with your “customer” — your missionary, donor or teammate — see if there’s some special way you can help him or her with the problem. This was a critical moment for me: These moments determine what I think of this airline. Unfortunately, it felt fairly cold and distant on my end of the relationship. “Nope, that flight’s gone.” (Well it *wasn’t* gone. I could still see it sitting there.) Even in the rebooking process, it went something like, “You’re welcome to try the 8:15am to Atlanta, but that plane’s got a mechanical problem and, if you want to know the truth, it probably won’t fly.” Ouch. That was my only option. Every other flight was full. “Everybody blames the TSA line,” I overheard one employee say to another. Ouch. I wish they wouldn’t rub it in. Frankly, the employee willing to go the extra mile for me at a time like this will probably get a special commendation letter from me. Or, maybe even better, a prayer.


Now, we’ve talked about lessons for the person on the other side of the counter. What about lessons for me? :-)

*** I had added 15′ of “padding” in case something went wrong. In today’s era of security lines and travel problems, 15′ is no longer enough. I needed to add a padding of 30′ minimum.

*** I placed the higher value on standing in line, with the hopes that I somehow looked like a better citizen. In the future, I’ll try to add the extra 30′ padding, mentioned above, but if, in spite of that, I’m still behind, I’ll try to gently ask for help from someone next time — rather than stand dutifully in line and miss my flight.

*** “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” still applies. I gently but firmly kept asking for options… and I didn’t give up. As a result, I’m at least headed to Atlanta now. Surely I’ll make it to Orlando *sometime* this week! :-)


So… let’s sum up. If something goes South with your “customer” — missionary, donor, or teammate — First, show some compassion. Second, if the problem is related to a typical deadline or milepost, ask yourself — what will happen if I flex a bit on this deadline. If the sky won’t fall and people won’t be abused, consider flexing the deadline. Third, if you can’t flex the deadline, at least try to work with your “customer” to help him with options. And please… do it cheerfully. For God loveth a cheerful disposition toward customer service. On my own end, I’ll add 30′ of slack time and, if necessary, be a bit bolder next time rather than standing still while I miss my flight. Finally, I’ll be willing to play the part of a squeaky wheel if necessary.


If all these things come together, perhaps it would truly be a wonderful world. :-)




PS. As I finish this article, I’m now on a flight to Atlanta. I hope to make it to Orlando SOMETIME during this week! :-)