Sunday, February 23, 2014

The "Delta" Approach

Those of you who receive my timeline updates know that I rely heavily on DL to get back and forth IAH/ATL to handle family matters. Since the merger, our ATL service has really been scaled back. More than the greater availability, there's a certain something about the Delta experience that I always look forward to.

In planning my return ATL/IAH yesterday, I was shooting for the 1745 with a 1920 backup. (The flights on the following 2 days were chockablock full on all carriers.) I arrived at the airport a little early (around 1515) and considered whether or not I could make the 1608, an RJ with 5-6 seats showing available on It was leaving from gate E34 and, given the size of the ATL airport, I told myself, "No way!". 

Never say never!

I arrived in the gate area at around 1535 and told myself that if it were busy, I was not going to annoy the agent by approaching. Boarding had not started, there was no one at the podium besides the agent, so I decided to tempt fate. As I approached, she looked up from her work. She looked me squarely in the face and smiled. Admittedly, she caught me off guard. I returned her smile and asked if it was too late to list for F/A jumpseat on her flight. "Not at all. Can you ride the jumpseat or will you need a cabin seat?". "Cabin seat, please", I replied as I handed over my ID and passport. A few seconds later she smiled and handed back my credential along with a boarding card which I assumed was the standard Delta "SEAT REQUEST" card. Not until I walked away did I glance down and see "6C", Economy Comfort. I turned around to say "thank you" but the agent was involved with another customer. However, she must have seen me out of the corner of her eye, because she glanced in my direction and smiled.

I tell you all of this to illustrate the point I've been trying to make lately. I often read in the "World Class Delta Flight Attendants" group stories that rival some in our groups for audacity and drama. The issues we discuss are often the same issues that they discuss. As in families, their issues are as big and insurmountable to them as ours often seem to us. On this trip, the CRJ900 I boarded ATL/IAH looked old and dirty; not unclean, dirty. The nice seat assignment I received was for a seat with a dodgy seatback lock that occasionally worked. (On the IAH/ATL flight, I was also in EconomyComfort in 5C on an A320. That aircraft was also old and dirty. The tray table was broken and had a jagged piece of metal jutting out from it.) Neither seat was comfortable, although the extra legroom is a great plus. On both flights, the Gogo land-based wifi worked perfectly, though.

What always stands out in my memory about the Delta experience is the people. I don't feel that they are concentrating on "meeting prescribed standards". Most of the time, I feel a genuine warmth, a desire to serve & to please, a confidence in themselves and in their product, often in SPITE of the product itself (which is frequently tired-looking)! They do have a lot of top-notch tools but there's NO tool that will substitute for a human face and touch.

I would like to think of my approach to my own job as a Flight Attendant as a "Delta" approach. Just before boarding, I take a moment to remind myself, this is my workplace, these are my guests; this is where and when I make my mark, professionally. I possess everything I need to be a success. The next few minutes will be the most important of our time together, make them count: smile, warmth, friendly, unhurried, eye contact...SLOW DOWN! Especially during the first few moments of a new customer encounter, speed is not the best attribute to employ. When an extraneous circumstance (late arriving aircraft, etc.) pressurizes the boarding, I will purposely slow down my own pace of meeting and greeting. Those uncontrollable circumstances affect customers at least as much as they do us and if we "set the expectation" of civility and warmth in spite of circumstances, our outcome is often improved.

I can only hope that my customers might leave me feeling welcomed and valued the way I do when I leave Delta. Is it wrong to recognize the right formula even if it isn't ours?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

To see and to hear

As Flight Attendants, we are confined for long periods with large groups of complete strangers in small spaces with no escape (for them OR us).  It's a very artificial situation within which we constantly interact:  we look at and talk to them, they look at and talk to us.  The nature of what we do is time driven so going "deeper" than that doesn't often happen.  But, on rare occasions, they don't just look at me, they SEE me.  They don't just listen to me, they HEAR me.  And I SEE and HEAR them.  

My goal for my last 10 years is to MAKE that happen two-three times as much as it did in the first 30 years.  Because when it happens, it's pretty special.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Truth

Siince learning "the truth" on Saturday, this issue has been at the forefront of my thoughts.  My first inclination about sharing it here slinked into the shadows when I considered the possible ramifications and feedback.  In the spirit of "all of us are smarter than one of us", I've decided to share the story anyway and welcome your feedback.

I attended CQ (Continuing Qualification Training) at IAHIT this past weekend.  CQ is the once-a-year opportunity to reconnect with friends and acquaintances that we don't see or interact with that often; some are friends of many years.  Two such friends sat directly behind me for much of the 2-day training.  Time apart can serve as a "magnifying glass" of sorts that seems to amplify the effects of age-related change.  We look different.  We act different.  We are different than what others remember about us from years ago.

For the lion's share of my career, I flew as a language speaker.  By virtue of the seniority-enhancing aspects of the speaker program at sCO, we tend to spend much time with those relatively near us in seniority, as I did for years.  The two colleagues who sat behind me and I flew together regularly in the past "era" of our careers.  Though we haven't been together in some time, their faces and smiles were familiar, at least at first.

The man, who in my experience had always been tentative, soft-spoken, maybe even a little shy, seemed moreso.  The woman was as ready and boisterous as ever!  As the first day evolved, I mistook his reticence to be involved, his failure to participate as indifference; we can get so jaded over time (especially with something like CQ)!  Then, I realized that there was something more significant at work, something seemingly "organic".  Of course, the instructors zeroed in on him right away and it became apparent that they were discussing his actions (and inactions).  My old friend moved lethargically, not slowly; he responded as though befuddled, not indifferent; his appearance was of someone "altered", not uninvolved.  When the opportunity presented itself, I asked our mutual friend, "Is he okay?".

The truth of the answer shook me.  He has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neurological disorder for which there is no cure.  The symptoms that I and others observed were those of the disorder, not the result of any drug or foreign substance ingestion, as many suspect.  She explained that he'd been suffering "in silence" for some time but that the symptoms were becoming more and more pronounced:  his soft voice has grown softer, more tentative, his gaze more intense, his gait more distinct, his emotions more raw, his cognitive processes more subdued.  This man and I are contemporaries, practically the same age and seniority.  I've known him for the better part of 3 decades and he's become almost unrecognizable except in his physical form.

While able to satisfactorily complete the requirements of CQ and the day-to-day mechanics of our job, the DIFFERENCE in his demeanor, in HIM is so pronounced.  Of course, I see him as a young man in his late 50s, early 60s.  No doubt others don't seem him the same way.

Time is not on my friend's side.  I don't know the extent to which the CQ instructors had to "work with" him so that he could successfully complete our annual requirements.  I have the impression that they take their responsibilities seriously and handled his situation in a "no nonsense" way.  It's a huge responsibility for them, one that I don't envy.  At the risk of appearing uncompassionate, they have a responsibility to the company, to us, to our passengers and to themselves to draw the arbitrary line.  I can't imagine...

For myself, I'm pondering what part of this situation bothers me the most:  "what will happen to my friend?", "who will be the one to say, 'ok, that's enough'?", "whew, I'm glad that I don't have to 'make the call'",

or, is the sad truth of the situation that I keep asking...

"is that going to happen to me?"

Sunday, February 9, 2014

My Reserve "Experiment"

For the month of February 2014, I am concentrating on regular updates to another blog which chronicles my "work life exchange" with a lifer Reserve at my airline employer.  I have traded my scheduled weekly trips to Frankfurt for her life "on call".  It's a look into the future for my partner, Cybill, and a look into the past for me:  I last was on Reserve in August 1984!

Much has changed with our Reserve system but the uncertainties that are part and parcel of sitting and waiting to be called to work are the same.  By journaling our real world experience, my swap partner and I hope to provide insights for our 13,000 new post-merger colleagues who are curious about our legacy reserve system.  It will also be enlightening to our own pre-merger colleagues who are unfamiliar with the realities of Reserve in 2014.

If you'd like to follow our journey (I'm striving to eliminate airline jargon and confusing abbreviations from the blog), you'll find us at:

Our Reserve Life

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Inconvenience of Truth

Just because the subjectivity of "truth" is inconvenient, doesn't make it less true.

It has been proven that we are each the sum of our experience, that we each perceive the world through our own unique frame of reference. Therefore, our "truth" is subject to unique interpretation, often contrived to comply with our, or our peer group's agenda. Empirically, it has been proven that if several individuals are confined to a controlled environment and subjected to a stimulus or series of stimuli, then removed from the environment without an opportunity to interact, that each reports having undergone a distinct experience, one from the other. Surprising? Not really, in a world where "absolute zero" doesn't equal "0".

"Absolutes" are a rarity and the concept of the absolute is often employed to "rally the troops", as in religious or political fundamentalism. Curiously, those seeking to employ the concept of "truth" to further an agenda often do so because their argument, left to stand on its own, is either unconvincing or deeply subject to interpretation, as indeed most things are. To reinforce an argument, it might be referred to as "absolute truth", meaning true beyond question. If I say to you, "the sky is blue" because it is a bright, cloudless midday, that statement must be true, right? However, you could observe the sky to be azure, cerulean, etc. Who would be correct? We each would be because our observation is our truth.

Employing our "truth" in an argument is a slippery slope. It smacks of exclusionism and fundamentalism and, while it serves a purpose, it does nothing to further harmony or understanding or effective communication. But there's certainly no lack of evidence as to its effectiveness: religion being a perfect example. If your "truth" is as true as you may think, it will have no trouble standing on its own without repeated reinforcement or the need for widespread agreement. Such truths are a rarity, indeed.

Whose truth is the right one? Whose truth is absolute?

I'll answer my own questions: everyone's and no one's.

It requires our force of will to "suspend" our truth sometimes in order to build better communication and better relationships with others, especially those with whom it appears we have great philosophical differences. Such actions are the opposite of fundamentalism and often lead to beautiful discoveries about oneself that might not occur otherwise. Indeed, a knife does not get sharper without friction. Nor does truth reveal itself without effort. Through occasionally yielding our comfortable ground just a little, we open a universe of truth to ourselves, a universe that has been waiting to be discovered. Of course, to yield requires that we be motivated to yield. What constitutes sufficient motivation? Might we get hurt in the process? Will it be worth it, in the end?

We spend our lives searching for truth in order to be at peace.

Are you at peace?