Life lessons when you least expect them

I’m writing this blog whilst still in the middle of flight delays en route from the BVI to the UK. Basically, last night my transatlantic flight from Miami to London was canceled after 7 hours of delaying it, with the upshot that I didn’t get to a hotel until nearly 3AM this morning, knowing I had to start over the following day. Not a happy thought having spent all day getting to Miami from the BVI.

Anyway, what am I writing about in this blog? Well, although it may have started out as if I’m going to write an ‘airlines-are-rubbish’ rant (and I’m tempted!), that’s not what it’s about.

Certainly, I observed plenty of customer-service failings from American Airlines last night. They’re frustrating to experience but also frustrating from an observational perspective. By this, I mean AA (and they’re not alone in the airline industry) don’t seem to learn the lessons and keep making the same basic customer service errors over and over.

From a business perspective that’s frustrating, because handling these situations better can so easily be addressed through processes, procedures and staff training. It actually gave me pause to consider my own businesses and our own customer-training programs. I had 7 hours stuck in Miami airport to think about it, and I concluded I can do a lot better in my own businesses too. So, I will be implementing new, ongoing customer and sales-related training programmes from next week.

But that’s also not what this blog piece is about.

At around 2AM this morning, when American finally canceled my flight, they sorted out a hotel voucher, downtown shuttle voucher and some food vouchers for my unscheduled and unwelcome overnight stay in Miami. At the same time, they also re-arranged today’s flights to the UK (the first one of which I’m on as I write).

The young lady from AA who helped me with my rearranged flights and hotel was wearing a Columbian football shirt. I made a joke that even though she’d been very helpful, I would still be rooting for England to ‘kick Columbia’s ass’ in their forthcoming World Cup match. Judging by the strange look she gave me, I think she may have thought I’d said I wanted to kick her ass, or something that sounded similar…

I left quickly, resolving to stop trying to make jokes, clearly not my forte… So, I headed out of the airport and into a taxi for downtown Miami.

It was a quiet ride, as you would expect at that time of the morning, but it slowed down once we got downtown since there were overnight roadworks, traffic lights etc. I was tired, fed-up and generally unhappy with my lot in life. Not far from the hotel, on one of the stops for traffic lights, I looked out of the taxi window to my right.

On the other side of the road was a bench seat, I think for a bus stop. It had fixed armrests, making it a three-seater and impossible to lie down on. On one end was a homeless man, sat in the seat, head propped on his arm, trying to sleep as best he could in a seated position. It looked remarkably like the 300 or so passengers I had just spent 7 hours with in Miami airport. Sat on uncomfortable seats, trying to get some rest whilst seated upright.

There was, of course, one obvious difference. This man was not waiting for a flight. Nor a bus. He was homeless and simply trying to get some sleep.

It hit me like a sledgehammer. What the hell was I feeling so fed-up about? I had a flight delay and cancellation? I was going to be a day late getting back to the UK? What exactly had I suffered? I missed my train in England and I had been looking forward to a pint of real ale in the evening sun at my local pub in Harrogate. That would now have to wait 24 hours. That’s all I ‘suffered’.

Comparable? Not even in the same universe. I was about to pull into a hotel – compliments of American Airlines – and spend a few hours in cossetted comfort. The homeless man was spending the night on a park bench, trying to sleep in a seated position.

I will probably never meet the man that I saw sleeping on a bench in Downtown Miami at 230AM on a balmy June evening in 2018. He certainly has no idea I exist. Nonetheless, I’ll never forget him, nor the timely reminder of one of life’s most important lessons.



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