in a year

less stress - calendar year turning 2015 to 2016 - The Best Advice So Far

We had done everything we could to expedite check-in at the airport, in preparation for our trip to Miami and the Bahamas. My mother had coordinated tickets so that she, my stepfather and I could be in adjoining seats on the flight, and we had all completed the process of checking in online ahead of time. On the way to the airport, I even downloaded the app from the airline, so that I could get us digital boarding passes on our phones in order to further move things along once we got to Logan International (no easy task; the app was rated two stars out of five, and it was very apparent why).

We parked our car in Braintree, south of the city, and took a shuttle in. Even with all of the travel involved to that point, we were hours early for our flight.

Once at the terminal, though already a bit tired, we were confident as we made our way forward to check our bags. I had my digital boarding pass up on the screen and my license in hand as I stepped forward to the next available representative at the counter. Should be a breeze, I thought, since on top of being ultra-prepared, there were only a handful of other people milling about in the area, none of whom seemed to have done the early check-in online (they were all at kiosks, rather than in line).

I met the rep and with a smile, taking a quick peek at her name tag so I could greet her by name, then handed over my phone and license and began to heft my bag onto the scale. She looked at me and then the bag with what I could only call a chiding face. The first semi-word out of her mouth was “UHN-uh.”

“I’m checking this bag,” I said simply.

YOU need a TAG!”  she said, stabbing the words at me accusingly while still shaking her head.

I found this an odd greeting from anyone, let alone from an airline representative to a customer. But in taking a quick glance around for some other sign or clue, I noticed something like a goldfish bowl full of ID tags with the little elastic bands attached. I already had a leather ID tag on my bag, but I figured it was better to just “follow the rules” with this woman. So I reached toward the bowl – which she promptly slid away from my hand down the counter, lips pursed, eyes wide and head tilted condescendingly.

In a too-loud voice, like someone’s bossy great aunt, she pointed one finger vaguely to my left. “YOU got to go over THERE!”

I looked “over there” and didn’t see another line that was marked for pre-checked passengers. In fact, I was sure the line I was in had read “Pre-Checked Passengers Only.”

I began to get the feeling that foam was expanding inside my skull, getting denser and denser. I held up my phone again, showing the digital boarding pass. “I’ve already checked in online,” I said, still feeling swimmy (in the bad way).

She added no new information, arm and finger still rigidly pointing. “You STILL got to go over THERE!” she repeated. “YOU need a LUGGAGE tag!”

Befuddled, I wandered in the general direction of “over there” and had the good fortune of seeing a couple with an equal look of consternation on their faces a few kiosks up the line. They were trying to collect the long pink and white strip that was snaking from the machine like Play-Doh from the Fun Factory (only much less fun). Maybe that’s what she’s talking about, I thought.

The kiosk was its own wonder of confusion and inefficiency. There was no greeting, no instructions. Just some buttons insisting that I enter forms of ID that didn’t pertain to me, since my mother had purchased the tickets. But after studying the screen, I eventually found a way to bypass the other methods and manually type in my confirmation number … along with re-entering all of the details I’d entered online days earlier when I went through the early check-in process.

At long last, out came the pink and white strip. It was clearly a luggage tag of some sort, but did not have clear instructions about which parts peeled off, which you kept, or how to affix it. With the long strip fluttering like a streamer in one hand, I lugged my baggage back over to the woman at the counter, handing her the digital boarding pass, my license – and now the luggage tag.

“UHN-uh!” she said. “I need a BOARDIN’ pass!”

Feeling caught somewhere between helplessness and vexation, I held up my phone a little closer to her (maybe she had poor eyesight?). “This is a boarding pass,” I stated, as mildly as possible. “I got it from your own site this morning. And I’m still not sure why I just had to enter all of my information again in order to get a luggage tag, when we all checked in online days ago.”

The woman sucked her teeth, exhaling a condescending sigh. “I can’t USE that. It don’t WORK. Now, I need a BOARDIN’ pass. YOU got to go over THERE!” She was pointing with the same rigid finger back at the kiosk I’d just come from.less stress


INTERMISSION: If you’re feeling frustrated reading this story, perhaps you can imagine how it was for me, who was living it. It was very much like a Twilight Zone episode.


I saw the bar-code scanner in her hand. “You should be able to scan this bar code from my phone just as easily as from a paper copy,” I explained, feeling the prickly pressure building as the foam in my head started expanding into my eyeballs. “That’s the point of offering customers a digital boarding pass, isn’t it?”

Her head never stopped shaking back and forth in large swings. “I SAID, I can’t USE that. Now you GOT to go OVER THERE!”

Now, I’m a patient guy. Really. Some would even say remarkably so. And I make it a point to treat people as people and not as obstacles, roles, props or background noise. But the outer limits of my patience were now fraying. Rending even.less stress

Best Advice So Far quote: Treat people as people and not as obstacles, roles, props or background noise.

With great effort, I steeled my voice to a moderate tone and smiled, though I’m sure it was a weak one. I took a deep breath, then said, “Gloria, I’m a first-time customer. It’s my first time flying your airline. And I’m a smart guy, I promise. I’ve done everything within reason to follow your airlines procedure for check-in. And you are yelling at me and treating me like a bad little boy who should know better. It’s now been 15 minutes, and as an intelligent person, I still have no idea what you want from me. Could you please take a minute here to clearly explain what it is that you’d like me to do?”

I never took my eyes from hers.less stress

There were a few beats of silence between us where you could almost feel the crackle of tension in the air. She was definitely taken aback. It was as if no customer had ever expressed such a thing to her. And, honestly, I think she interpreted my particular wording to be an indication that I was about ready to file a formal complaint.

Finally, all of the “stank” went out of her. She deflated to a normal human being who actually seemed capable of helping me check in. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I didn’t mean to yell at you. Here, I’ll show you,” she said, stepping over the scale and walking over to the kiosk I’d left. She pushed a few buttons and out came a paper boarding pass. She stepped back over the scale and behind the counter. “I need this copy. Our scanner doesn’t work on the digital boarding pass for some reason.” She scanned the copy she’d just printed, checked my license, and tagged the bag – which was a few ounces over the 50-pound limit. She glanced at me, head still bowed over the bag. “I’ll put this through without the extra charge, but you might want to take something out on the way back, because someone else may charge you the over-limit fee, and that’s $100.”

I smiled and thanked her. The situation was rectified. The bag was off down the conveyor belt. And I was off toward security and my gate.

Now again, even for me, this interchange was frustrating. It was terrible customer service. Heck, it was just terrible communication skills. And it wasn’t because she didn’t know how to explain it, since she was able to quickly remedy the situation and be pleasant when she chose to do so. She’d made a choice at the outset to be bossy, cryptic and cantankerous, for whatever perceived gains there were for her in it. And I was irritated, rightfully so. Even angry.

Shortly after I entered the winding security queue, my mother and stepfather caught up with me. They had had an equally chaotic experience with check-in, and with entirely different airline staff. They vented their frustration, exclaiming how unbelievably rude and unhelpful the check-in workers had been. And I agreed.

But now that moment was over and I was on to a new moment.

I took my own advice (for the umpteenth time in life) and said out aloud, “Yup. It was a mess. But is it going to matter in a year? Nope.” I closed my eyes, took a deep soul-cleansing breath and exhaled, making the choice to let it go. To smile on purpose. To push “RESTART.”

Best Advice So Far quote: Ask yourself, Is this going to matter in a year? If the answer is no, let it go. Push RESTART.

My mother replied, “No, it’s not going to matter in a year, but that’s ridiculous!” Yet I could tell that she saw my “soul reset.” And I think that looked pretty good to her. So after a few moments, she also chose to let it go. So did my stepfather.

We’d actually been placed in the “Pre-Screen” line at security, which saved us time. And then off we went to the gate to relax a while before heading to Miami.

Truth be told, there were many moments during the trip that were disappointing, taxing, irritating – even downright scary:less stress

The airline staff aboard the plane were unfriendly, unaccommodating and even downright rude at times.

We were initially placed in the regular (i.e., “LONG”) check-in line for the cruise ship the day of the wedding, rather than the expedited line for our party.

There were times when we were inextricably grouped with ultra-negative and unfun people who sighed and complained loudly about everything, no matter how good.

At one point, all bathrooms aboard the ship ceased to function. No announcements were made. We had no idea when (or if) the problem would be fixed. And it seemed, in checking all floors for a clean commode, that everyone aboard had been – *ahem* – caught with their pants down, so to speak. I won’t get into graphic detail, but it was both disturbing and downright alarming. Were we going to be like those Carnival cruise ship disasters a few years back where the bathrooms backed up into the whole ship, and people were stuck onboard with no power, food or air conditioning, getting sick and having to relieve themselves into plastic bags? But after about eight hours of radio silence and holding things in, systems were fixed and back to normal.

At every yucky turn, I asked myself, Is this going to matter in a year? And it’s truly amazing the power that this simple strategy has, especially when used consistently. It rules out the vast majority of things that could ruin your morning, your day – even your week, or longer.less stress

Left to rehash, retell and ruminate over every little thing that went awry during this trip, I could very easily have come away from it wishing I’d never gone at all. Reporting that it was miserable. A waste of money. A disaster. But you know what? Armed with my “in a year” filter, I really was able to step out of ugly moments and into “the next moment” without any lingering soul funk – looking back at the minor messy stuff as merely temporary inconveniences between all the many, many good things.

Best Advice So Far quote: Look at the minor messy stuff in life as merely temporary inconveniences between all the many, many good things.

True, sometimes the answer to the question “Is this going to matter in a year?” is “Yes, it probably will.” And I have a follow-up strategy for those times. But I have to tell you, they are mighty rare.

I know I’ve written before about asking yourself the question “Will this matter in a year?” But I don’t know that I’ve ever fleshed it out with recent concrete examples as I’ve done here today. I hope it helped to see it in practice, up close and personal. After all, real life is … well … real.

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About Erik

Erik is an author, speaker, blogger, facilitator, people lover, creative force, conversationalist, problem solver, chance-taker, noticer and lover of life. He lives in the Boston area. "It's more about writing lives than writing pages." View all posts by Erik

21 responses to “in a year

  • gina amos

    Thanks Erik for this post. It was a reminder of the power or lack thereof of our actions and words. You have the patience of a saint! And I must tell you I try to follow your example by using the first names of people I come in contact with in the service industry. Last week I even went so far as to tell a ferry deckhand that I was impressed by the way she did her job. And it was true. I couldn’t believe how she handled those ropes when we reached each ferry wharf. She was taken aback by my compliment of course but what surprised me most was the response from my husband. He said that it was a nice thing I did. And that it probably made her day. We then went on to have a discussion about the importance of telling people when they do a good job and how much negativity there is in our everyday lives.
    In your case in point I can’t help but wonder if the rep treated the next customer in line with a little more consideration. 😁 from your description she sounded really scary! What was the name of the airline so I know not to fly with them.LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Hi, Gina. It does me a world of good to hear your dock story and the discussion it started between you and your husband. There really is no greater reward for me than to get the opportunity to be let in on stories like this and to know that something I put out there into the world is making a difference. You made a difference to that dock worker with your choice to compliment her (a difference you may never really know the scope of); and you are making a difference when you remember to use each person’s name. But it lets me feel that, if only in a tiny way, my own choices got to have an impact a half-a-world away. Very cool.

      As for the airline, another choice I make is always to name names when people do something outstanding in a positive way, and never to do so when a person or agency stands out for negative reasons. I kept to this in my my book, where all names used positively are real – and all names of people cast in a negative light were pseudonyms (which I point out in each chapter). However, in the case of this airline (as I mentioned in another comment here), I did send a link to this post to the CEO and other decisions makers there. I will say that, as of yet, I have not heard back from any of the three, which tells me that perhaps the problem with this particular airline is systemic, not merely local.

      Thanks for taking time to read and to share a bit of your own world with us!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Anonymous

    Mega kudos to you Erik in handling that. And no it won’t matter in a year or perhaps even by next week. I love reading your blog and get perks all the time from it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Thanks for the kind words and I’m glad that you’re finding those “perks” each week. It’s always rewarding to get to hear back from readers that the blog posts are making a difference in real life.

      Like

  • Kirby

    Expectations, opportunities and experiences play pivotal roles in our lives. Sometimes we have to check ourselves. Simple question that brings clarity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Your comment causes a detail of this post to move forward in my mind, Kirby. My “Will it matter in a year?” question brings clarity to me in its regular use; but speaking it aloud also brought clarity to others around me (not only my mother and stepfather, but, truthfully, other passengers in line behind us who had been equally frustrated). In other words, when we choose to voice our own moments of clarity, they often spread. At least we give them the chance to do so.

      Like

  • Haddon Musings

    Yours is a very well written post and a very good example of how not losing your cool in situations helps everyone to resolve problems.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Bernadette. How we handle negative scenarios as they are happening is often of equal importance to knowing how to step out of them and reset our minds once difficult situations are over.

      Like

  • D. Wallace Peach

    You didn’t tell me the airline so I can avoid them! Ha ha. Great story, Erik, and I too could feel my irritation rising just at the telling. Sometimes the filter of a year isn’t even necessary as a week, day, or the next 5 minutes will do it. The message though is clear…why waste any time stewing and feeling angry? It robs time from all the present possibilities, and there’s nothing to be done about it anyway as it resides into the past. Unless one chooses to write a respectful letter regarding their experience, just letting it go is kindest on the soul.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      I so agree, Diana. In fact, I didn’t mention it in the post, because it diverted from the title focus; but I actually am famous for adding “… Will it matter in a week? Nope. Will it matter tomorrow? Nope. Does it matter in one minute? Nope.” Ha ha!

      And, as fate would have it, I just sent a link to this post to the powers-that-be at the airline (telling them that “Gloria” was a fictitious name). We’ll see what they think of reading about the experience in prose.

      Liked by 1 person

      • D. Wallace Peach

        I had to add that last bit about writing a letter. Sometimes pointing out challenges is appreciated, not only by the next customer, but by any business genuinely interested in customer service and improving their processes. (It’s the old quality manager in me coming out :-).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Erik

          I’m with you and I do this often. I’m happy to say that my record of reporting wonderful customer service equals or surpasses my passing along of “areas for improvement” though, which I think is important. Taking the time for only the negatives can seep in and cause us to become negative ourselves.

          Liked by 1 person

  • Jed Jurchenko

    I agree with Sean, excellent story Erik! It’s the perfect illustration of so many of the principles that you teach. I like how you were friendly, respectfully, and when pushed, stood your ground. There is nothing noble about allowing someone’s rudeness to go unaddressed. It’s not good for us and it’s not good for them. Kudos to you for respectfully bringing to this lady’s attention just how rude she was acting. It’s likely that your actions saved the next customers an enormous headache.

    Our family had similar experiences with the check-in during our last flight. Hidden fees, frustrated employees, and hassles were everywhere. To top it off, one of our daughter’s car seats was missing upon our arrival. Unfortunately, the airline had run out of loaner car seats. The one saving grace was that the baggage attendant –who happened to have small children herself – had an extra booster seat in her personal car. She insisted that we borrow it for the entire week.

    We are incredibly impressed with how this employee went above and beyond. She really was amazing! It’s interesting how customer service and small acts of kindness can make or break a company.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Erik

      Hey, Jed. It’s funny: though that moment is past and doesn’t bother me at all in the now, writing this particular post has me contemplating sending a link to the CEO of the airline. I think he will appreciate that I did not mention the airline’s name; and if I took out “Gloria,” he would not target her (it really was the whole airline staff). But it would allow him to get a candid view in non-standard format of how the airline is being perceived by customers, and perhaps would make a difference. I think the key is to do such things when the heat of a moment is well past, not in anger. For instance, this would-be CEO did not mistreat me; and we would hope he is part of the potential solution, not the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Sean P Carlin

    You are from Boston, right? And you’ve never heard that expression?!

    I meant what I said: It’s a great post. You really know how to tell a story. Nice job, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      I am from the Boston area, indeed. However, my not having heard the phrase isn’t saying much, since I’ve only ever ridden the T twice, and last year was the first time I’d been inside Fenway. (I know, I’m bad!)

      Liked by 1 person

  • Sean P Carlin

    That is a splendid example, Erik. Just reading it, I found myself getting my Irish up vicariously (which I am prone to do, though hopefully less so with age — as well as your weekly infusion of sound advice!), and you’re absolutely right — all a situation like that requires is a mental step backwards and a simple rhetorical: Will this matter in a year? All the air just goes out of the bag once that’s stated, doesn’t it? Another reliably great essay, sir!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Thanks, Sean. I haven’t heard the idiom “to get one’s Irish up” before! That’s a keeper, for sure. I’m glad the words were effective in painting both the picture and the mood of the moment. And thanks for always taking the time to read and share your thoughts. It helps spark the discussion for others, I know.

      Liked by 1 person

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