Empathy & bleeding fingers

I spend a good portion of my time at airports travelling for work and my number one objective is always to make it on board the plane as quickly and efficiently as possible. George Clooney’s role in the movie “Up in the Air” is my reality.

90% percent of the time the process goes smoothly. I can arrive at the airport in under an hour of my scheduled departure time, go through all the required steps and be ready to board with just enough time to spare that I don’t feel rushed.

Tonight however, fell into the other 10% when my normal perfected process was disrupted with an unexpected mandatory check in with a live agent to check my travel documents.

As I waited in the priority check in line, I noticed that the usual protocol of frequent flyers was not being followed. After several minutes I got impatient and rushed to the counter and asked the agent “Is this not the priority check in? “. The agent in a frustrated voice replied “Yes sir, but there is nothing I can do right now.” I returned back to the line-up disgruntled that my usual efficient process was being thrown off.

When it was my turn to check in, the agent was apologetic and explained that the previous couple was headed to Australia and had not correctly completed their pre-entry requirements. This was the reason the line-up was so long and that the usual protocol was not being followed.

As he proceeded with the check in, I noticed that he was suffering from what looked like a fairly bad cut on his finger. He was so busy that he hadn’t had the opportunity to take a minute to get a band-aid. When I questioned him about it he told me he would only be able to tend to his bleeding finger once the line-up died down.

This really made me think. Was it really necessary of me to disturb him earlier just because I was waiting a few extra minutes than I usually do? I knew darn well that it was the priority check in line and if things were moving slowly it was most likely because of the passengers and not this agent trying to slow things down on purpose. Why wasn’t I more patient and just accept the fact that there must be a valid reason that things were slower than normal?

I took away a few lessons from this situation.

The first being that I must remember to remain patient and secondly that I have to be empathetic at all times.

There are many reasons out of the agent’s control that will delay the “normal” efficient process. I need to put away my instant gratification card and be conscious that I can make a serious difference in another person’s day by being more flexible and stepping outside my normal routine.

In fact, I took an extra few minutes following the check in to go to the store and buy the agent a package of band-aids. I came back when another impatient traveler was asking a dozen questions to the agent and interjected: “I thought you could use one of these.” He smiled and thanked me.

In the end I didn’t miss my flight and even had time to respond to a few text messages and emails. More importantly, I had time to reflect on this experience and consider how I could approach similar situations in the future.

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