When Something Goes Wrong, Make Nice.

Stuff happens when we travel. The number of things that can go wrong is almost limitless, from the mildly annoying, to the inconvenient, and all the way up to the disaster. Flight delays or cancellations. Missed connections. Lost luggage. A hotel room without the promised view. The list is endless. And how we handle these issues when they come up can be the difference between getting the problem resolved or having the situation deteriorate even more.

The most obvious advice is often the most difficult to follow: don’t get mad. Be reasonable and stay calm. For one thing, it’s almost always true that the person you’re actually talking to isn’t the one responsible for whatever the problem might be. Why beat up on the gate agent because the big Airbus you expected has been replaced by a Boeing 757 and instead of an aisle seat in row 9, you’re now in a middle seat in row 37. She didn’t cause your problem … but, if you’re nice, she may be able to fix it. On the other hand, why should she bother if you’re giving her a bad time? 

I heard a wonderful story from a friend of mine named Rick who was at the Honolulu airport years ago waiting to check in for his flight. Just ahead of him in line, a big blowhard was heaping verbal abuse on an airline employee behind the counter. Through it all, the young man remained polite and kept his composure, despite the tongue lashing he was getting for something that was not his fault.

Finally, the irate passenger went stomping off to his gate and Rick stepped up to the counter. As his bag was being checked and his boarding pass printed, Rick said he couldn’t help overhear the rantings of the previous passenger and he asked the ticket agent how he managed to keep his cool.

“Well,” he said, “It helped to know that while the gentleman was en route to Philadelphia, his bag would be heading for Tokyo.”