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
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.”
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.
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.