Lessons and Tips from Being Stranded at the Airport

We’ve all seen the pictures on the news. Extreme weather closes a critical hub airport. Soon planes all over the nation are stranded and huge numbers of flights are cancelled. Hundreds of people stand in line to rebook; others are sprawled out on the floor. It’s more refugee camp than airport.

Airport DelaysUnfortunately, my family (along with tens of thousands of others) got caught up in the recent weather mess that resulted in thousands of cancelled flights. Its effects literally affected flights all over the planet for several days.

While stranded, we learned some valuable lessons that can be applied to both life and leadership:

CONTROL IS AN ILLUSION: Sure you paid for your ticket. Yes, the airline has a responsibility to get you there. However storms in life are unavoidable. They wreck your best made plans. This is a hard concept for us. We are so used to reliable air travel (and reliable food supplies, communications, fuel and water for that matter) that disruptions can feel like a violation of our rights. It’s also a scary reminder. We are dependent other people and hugely complicated systems, all of which are outside our control. “Going with the flow” will help keep you sane when life’s storms disrupt your plans.

De-icing An AirplaneEVERYTHING LOOKS WORSE WHEN YOU ARE TIRED: After an already long day of travel, a cancelled connection can feel like the end of the world. Disappointment, anger and frustration get the best of you. You want to take out your frustrations somewhere (or on someone!). The best play is to rebook and then get a hotel room. A decent night’s sleep will ease your frustration and put the situation in better perspective. Hotels are money well spent. In leadership situations, give yourself a night to sleep on a frustrating problem.

USE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR ADVENTURE: Because of changes in the airline business, delays of 1-4 days are becoming common. Accept that you are stuck and use the opportunity to explore the city. Spend a little money to see the sights. After all, when will you ever have an opportunity like this? It’s better to treat the days as a vacation opportunity than a jail sentence. In difficult leadership circumstances, ask yourself, “How can I make the best of what has happened?” If you look at a problem from a variety of angles, many times you will discover opportunities that you would never have seen otherwise.

Flight Status BoardDISCOVER ALTERNATIVES: When rebooking, ask if the airline can get you to cities near your destination. You may be able to get into a nearby city days earlier, then simply take a shuttle bus or rent a car to get you to your final destination. In leadership, being willing to adjust your plan may allow you to still meet your target (simply using different means).

ALWAYS TREAT AGENTS WITH RESPECT: Airline employees have a lot of power to help you. If you are kind to them they are much more willing to do so. Being angry and demanding your rights gets you nowhere . . . or maybe worse. The same is true in leadership.

EVERYBODY IS IN THE SAME BOAT: You may feel like you are alone and that getting to your event is more important than to the other travelers around you. The truth is that people pay to fly for a reason. They all have a tight timetable and something important to which they are traveling. Leaders, the same is true for our staff members and customers. They face the same challenges and frustrations you do. Be the boss who empathizes and understands . . . not the one who thinks only they have problems.

Free WiFi SignTHINGS ARE RARELY AS BAD AS THEY FIRST SEEM: Cancelled travel plans feel like a disaster when you first hear of them. With a little patience and flexibility, things do work themselves out. The same is true when leaders first hear bad news.

HUMOR IS APPRECIATED: A few quips with gate agents, flight crews or fellow travelers can humanize a difficult situation. Everyone appreciates a little levity under difficult circumstances. Leaders build clout when they bring humor to tense situations.


Cancelled Flights

What lessons have your travels taught you about life and leadership? Please leave a comment below.