Some insights hit us in the most unusual places. My recent poignant one was at an airport on an escalator.
I was travelling to Gaborone with two work colleagues for a training workshop, connecting through Johannesburg at the OR Tambo airport. As we always expect, I anticipated a smooth passage with no hitches whatsoever.
Alas our connecting flight was delayed by 3 hours. Initially as we confirmed the boarding passes, we were informed the flight would be delayed by an hour with departure now set for 12:55pm. A look at my watch told me it was after 10am. A good two hours plus to spare.
After spending some time at one of the restaurants, we made our way to the terminal. I noticed the speed at which the escalator moved, taking us downstairs. There was no rush in its steady movement.
This made me reflect on my and our so called modern life. It is so fast paced that we literally have no time to take a relaxed seat. At that moment, the instinctive urge I had melted away. The urge to be upset, break something or unleash a tantrum on any unfortunate soul, simply was not there.
Instead I took time to enjoy the ride down, crack a joke, notice people, the renovation works and the general activity.
The public announcer system came on and a female voice enveloped the terminal. But again, it was not time to go. This time, we were informed the flight had now been pushed to 14hrs( 2pm). Amazingly, I still kept my cool and breathed the moment in.
What did I have to lose after all? The training was only commencing the following day, I was not in the office and we were not stranded or stuck mid-air. Just that realisation diluted my negativity.
My colleagues and I chatted endlessly, cracked jokes and explored all we could to while the minutes away.
A few gates away, I had noticed about two or more flights that were destined for Maun in Botswana. Before this I had never heard of the place or if I had, it was passively. It so happens that it is a busy tourist destination and from the number of people on each flight, that was evident.
You must be wondering what that has to do with escalators, delayed flights and a tourist destination. Well it goes back to slowing down and enjoying the slow but steady ride on the escalator. 95% or more of the people that were on the Maun flights were white.
What does that show? They had taken time off their usual daily hustling and lives to take a holiday. This made me think about my life and most of us. Planning for a holiday is almost alien and the default mindset is that we need a windfall of cash at once to make this happen. It should not be this way. We can challenge ourselves to set some money aside for days such as these.
Another interesting thought hit me. This time it had to do with service. Many a time, I have had to put up with agents or staff that simply will not smile or make you want to go back to their shop, office or organisation. They successfully make you feel you are such an inconvenience and they cannot wait for you to be out of their way.
This time though the lady responsible for checking us in was cordial. We shared a joke or two as she did her best to keep us calm.
Having worked with the front-line for a couple of years and having a passion for service, I knew the situation was beyond them. They were screamed at and questioned but after the escalator, I reminded myself that they were neither pilots nor decision makers in this particular case!
Unfortunately for them, they represented the organisation and customers needed someone to vent their anger at. It made me think of the many times our front-line teams face this heat. Simply because of systems that are designed and implemented without the customer at their core. Or decisions made without the customer’s interests at heart. Perhaps decisions that are either not made at all or are delayed.
In this case, the first time it was known the flight would be delayed by an hour, the decision process should have kicked in. With the fleet the airline has, a plan to avail an alternative aircraft would not have been an impossibility. Whatever preparatory checks are done could always be done for such cases. A simplistic thought it may be but a major one from a service perspective.
But that was not the case here and the result was stress, anxiety and a pain point for customers and staff alike. Stealing the very joy and peace that the escalator reminds us of.
The counter side to this experience also is how easily mediocrity sets in. Cases of lost luggage, delayed flights and related breakdowns are almost becoming the norm with this particular airline. Things like this must not be. But unfortunately, even the body language and reaction of most customers showed a resignation to and acceptance of this state of affairs.
How many times in our organisations do we delay customer impacting decisions on account of egos, internal politics, unfriendly systems or rigid policies? And our poor once vibrant ladies and gentlemen in the front-line are torn to shreds by disgruntled customers.
We finally boarded at 2pm and arrived in Gaborone safely. We had further delays after being driven to the wrong hotel. We eventually went to the right one after another hour’s delay, were stuck at the reception because of a power blackout and therefore could not be checked in.
At this stage I was exhausted. But I remembered the escalator. Throughout this ordeal, I maintained my cool and enjoyed light moments with all those around me including some South African passengers we had been with through it all.
We face so many stressful situations in our lives every day. We are in a society that cherishes and applauds busy bodies, suggesting they represent effectiveness and top performance. As a result, we get on the fast train but never enjoy the ride. We never see the beauty around us or realise the priceless effect of a smile.
Our lives are characterised by the daily rush hour traffic, school fees, households bills and needs, lousy customer service or multiple demands at work that mount sustained pressure. If let to reign, these suck the joy out of our life.
But we always retain the power to decide how we react. To lash out in frustration and anger or be the source of brightness. After the escalator, I knew the choice I needed to make each day.
So the next time you have to wait in a queue or are pressured and at a point of explosion, perhaps resignation, think of the escalator.
Do your best. Be your best. Endure the rest and always remember to take it slow. Speed is not always the healthiest option.
Get on the escalator and move slowly, taking in the scene while you are at it.