I’m writing this from Spain. We’re in a room facing the sea, sunshine streaming through the palm trees, green parakeets occasionally flying past our balcony.
I’m in a haven of tranquility. It’s idyllic. And it’s in stark contrast to the scenes playing out just yesterday!
What happened a matter of hours ago was a reflection of the human race at its worst. There might not have been guns or knives involved, but words are also weapons and their harshness cuts deep.
Yesterday, I saw tempers flare, arrogance rule and a Lord Of The Flies moment begin to unfurl.
Picture the scene: my wife and I are sitting in our seats, ready for take off, when we become aware of frustrations in the seats directly ahead of us.
A man, travelling with his mother, has booked a window seat, but one of the airline crew members – a young woman, perhaps in her early 20s – is already sitting in that seat.
‘Airline Lady’ explains that she has been told to sit in that particular seat by her captain and is not allowed to move. ‘Seat Man’ begins to assert that he’s bought and paid for that seat and needs to sit with his mother. Airline Lady, staying calm but clearly feeling awkward, explains again that she’s sorry, but she’s been instructed to stay put.
As an observer, it’s pretty obvious that the situation has been badly handled. The man really should have been made aware of the situation on boarding and he and his mother offered different seats together. Airline Lady should have been equipped with a better coping and customer handling position than ‘I’ve been told to sit here and I’m not allowed to move’. But what happened next really didn’t show humanity in its best light.
Seat Man is demanding an explanation. Airline Lady is repeating the line about not being allowed to move. The guy sitting next to us – ‘Angry Man’ -raises his voice and joins in, berating the girl, barely bottled anger and sarcasm seeping into every word, the verbal equivalent of getting up in someone’s space and pointing a finger into their face. Obviously, he says, she’s not really sorry, or she’d move her ass! He’s ranting about the state of the airline, about how she should get out of that man’s seat, she should tell us all why she’s sitting there, etc, etc.
Another lady, sitting in the other seat in front of us – let’s call her ‘Seat Woman’ starts to feed off Angry Man’s energy and joins in with her own heated words and Airline Lady is both figuratively, and literally, backed into a corner, skin flushing up more by the second as she’s assaulted by heated words from all directions.
Seat Woman eventually gives up her place so Seat Man can sit with his mother, and you might expect things to calm down.
Angry Man’s fuse has now been lit.
Seat Woman is still also loudly protesting from a row back.
Seat Man is demanding to know Airline Lady’s name and the pilot’s name and she’s doing her best to give him the details he needs and tell him who he can contact at the airline to complain and see if he can be recompensed, despite he fact that he is now sitting with his mother.
Angry Man decides to join the dots and starts ranting about the door. If Airline Lady has been told to sit there, next to an emergency exit, and won’t tell us why, there must be something wrong with it. He starts shouting again, informing the rest of the plane, in very plain language, that the door is broken, we’re not safe and he wants to get off now, before it’s too late. It’s all getting very Final Destination!
Airline Lady is trying to reassure him – and the other passengers – that everything is okay, that all is safe, but her voice is pretty much lost. She has become an object to hurl abuse at, someone to deride and the energy is spreading around the plane – a heady mix of anger, frustration and righteousness, all targeted at one young lady stuck between a rock and a hard place. Or an old lady and an emergency exit!
Eventually, another member of cabin crew comes along, speaks to Seat Man and gives him the opportunity to talk with the captain. By the time he comes back to his seat, he’s much calmer and understands why he’s been moved. He, his mother and Airline Lady have pleasant conversation for the duration of the flight.
Meanwhile, Angry Man remained ‘on one’ for the trip. He barked instructions at cabin staff – ‘Put my jacket up there’ – ‘Give me a Pepsi’ – manners non-existent. I found myself ordering a drink, just so I could smile at the crew, send out a bit of apologetic kindness and emphasise my please and thank yous. Maybe Angry Man addresses people in similar tones all the time – I have no idea – but, certainly, his condescending, mannerless energy added to the sting of the earlier incident.
What I found really interesting was that on the plane, so much intense ill-feeling was directed at Airline Lady, yet I was the only one trying to point out that, actually, it wasn’t really her fault. At the other end, a bunch of Angry Man’s compatriots we’re queuing for passport control right behind us – all talking about how uncomfortable they felt during the incident and how bad they felt for Airline Lady. I had to wonder: why did none of them interject or try to calm him down at the time?
It was a nutshell incident but one that escalated quickly from relative isolation to a fire burning in bellies up and down the plane. A metal tube full of people carrying issues of their own and subconsciously looking for an outlet. Sometimes I wonder how many of us are constantly walking around with hammers and looking for nails.
Though this was eventually contained, I felt compelled to write this because what happened with Airline Lady really isn’t that unusual, is it?
When someone pushes our buttons, or we go into ‘complain mode’, our compassion goes right out the window. The way people spoke to Airline Lady really was out of order, and yet so many of us do it all the time.
Honestly, a few years back, that could have been me. Old ‘Corporate Taz’ could easily have gone into that zone of believing that any company representative should be equipped to take my anger and send it up, or down, the line; it might not be her ‘fault’, but she’s wearing the brand, so she’s the conduit and it’s all fair game.
Except it’s not.
Sometimes we do need to express our displeasure with levels of service, but there is never an excuse for dropping our humanity in the process.
I have a bit of a hair trigger on this one. I’ve spoken before about some of the bullying and abuse in my past and, at some point, I made a conscious decision to not accept that kind of behaviour any more. No matter what the circumstances, I do not give anyone the right to speak down to me in any way.
We are all human beings. Whatever the circumstances, we need to treat each other with respect and kindness. Remember that old adage about treating others as we’d like to be treated? And if anyone reading this is currently flexing their neck and saying they don’t have a problem with a bit of aggro, let’s step things up a bit: try treating others as you’d like your mother/daughter/wife/loved ones to be treated.
Even if you’re lodging a complaint, you can still be respectful of others and mindful of their feelings. We can be assertive and firm without being assholes. We can state our case without making things personal. Remember you’re dealing with an organisation, not with the company employee just trying to pay their bills and stay on top of life like you or I. Don’t shoot the messenger!
There is always, always room for more kindness in the world. There is always, always room for more compassion. There is always, always room for more ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ – manners cost nothing!
Be aware of the energy you’re putting out into the world, please. I might sound like an old hippy, but I really do believe we can make a difference together.
I’m going back to my balcony now – that scenery is just too beautiful to ignore in favour of a screen and keyboard. It’s tranquil and calm here… I guess the pain in Spain falls mainly on the plane! ?
Until next time,