Keep Moving Forward-4 Lessons from an International Flight

Keep Moving Forward-4 Lessons from an International Flight

So, I’m almost finished packing my bags to head back to the United States after spending two weeks in Korea and the Philippines, which has been an incredible trip.  I’ve met some awesome people, seen some beautiful and interesting things, and had some of the greatest food I’ve ever eaten…how there aren’t more Korean restaurants in St Louis is beyond me.  The trip has been great, but with out a little bit of foresight, luck, and some help, the flight on the way here could have been a whole lot worse.  After looking back on the trip here, I found 4 good lessons that I could pull from it.  Like most of my “Lessons from…” posts, this is kinda long, so you are forewarned…

So, first off, my flight out of STL on United Airlines was at 6:00am, although you can’t check in until 4:30am.  After a night of 2 hours of sleep (tying up all the loose ends) and a traffic free drive to the airport by my wife, I am third in line to check in for the first leg of my flight to Denver.  I don’t see the flight up on the Departures Board, which concerns me a bit, so I double-check my itinerary to make sure I’ve got the right date and time (I’ve made that mistake twice…and that’s not fun).  Flight info is correct, hmm…not sure.  Then I hear the person in front of me get told by the attendent “the flight to Denver has been cancelled please go over there and wait.”  Oh crap…not good.  The attendent asks me what flight I am on and tell her Denver, same treatment “your flight has been cancelled, go over there and wait.”  After waiting in line for over 15 minutes (she would only talk to someone from “the line” if there wasn’t anyone else checking in) it finally became my turn. My “good morning” and big smile is met only with a quick glance up from the screen to grab my passport. “You will now be on a 10am flight to O’Hare through Narita (Tokyo) then Incheon (Seoul)” I am told flatly. “Great, do you know why the flight was cancelled?” I asked…blank stare at me, eyes back to her screen…pause…”I don’t know, I’m just rebooking your flight.” Well, ok then, someone didn’t have their coffee this morning.  Boarding passes are printed and handed to me as she yells “NEXT” over my shoulder.

Airport Lesson #1: You should always treat your customers with dignity and respect, but even more so when they are being inconvenienced or put out in any manner by your product/service.  You should deliver over the top service and kindness to people in these situations, because they are already worried, stressed, and concerned with their predicament as well as you and your brand.  This is an opportunity to really WOW customers and turn a potentially bad situation into a great one…Barb from United Airlines, you failed this opportunity miserably.

Ok, so my itinerary went from:

STL (6am Friday)–>Denver–>LA–>Seoul (5:30pm Saturday) to

STL (10am Friday)–>Chicago–>Tokyo–>Seoul (9pm Saturday)

So, my already ridiculously long journey just got  3.5 hours added to it, not to mention a layover after 12 hours of flying, not cool.

I now have 4 hours until my Chicago flight, so the first thing I do after getting through security is look at the Departures Board for earlier flights to Chicago.  There are two flights in between now and mine, so I go straight to the gate of the flight that is leaving at 6:30am to try and fly standby…”any checked bags?”…”Nope, just carry-on”…on the list…on the flight!  If nothing else, I would rather have one long layover (Chicago to Tokyo flight was at 2pm) than two medium ones.  Hit the ground in Chicago, fire up the iPhone, and go to United Airlines website to check flight availability from Chicago to Seoul.  Besides the one I was booked on, there was a Chicago–>Seattle–>Seoul, and it would get me in at 5:50pm, only 20 minutes later than my original flight!

Airport Lesson #2: I intentionally packed very light in order to not have any checked bags.  If I would have checked any bags, I either wouldn’t have got on any of the standby flights or would have probably had my bags lost/delayed.  In business, you have to stay light on your feet and be extremely responsive to changing situations and opportunities.  This is one of the main strategic advantages small businesses have over the large corporations.  What would take a big company months or years to change and implement, can be done in days or weeks within a small business.  Stay lean, stay streamlined, and stay at the front line of innovation.

As soon as I get off the plane, I go straight for the Seattle flight gate to inquire about standby.  I’m told by the gate attendent that the Seoul flight looks pretty booked, so he couldn’t change it, and international flights are typically only changed at Customer Service anyway…undeterred, off to Customer Service I go.  Standing in line, I was scoping out the different workers…one had a supervisor helping her with a customer (don’t want her because I need someone that is able to make their own decisions), another looks very bored/mad/sad whatever you want to call it (don’t want her, they typically don’t like to help people), another is getting yelled at by a guy with an East Coast accent (don’t want him, he’s going to be frustrated after this clown stops yelling), but this lady, I think she’s my gal…she’s got a colorful scarf on and is smiling to the customer she is talking to…she’s it.  So, I wait patiently until she is available passing up the opportunity to go to some of the other workers until my chance with my gal comes.  Very cheerful, very courteous…good choice.

Airport Lesson #3: Pay attention to how you and your team looks, dresses, interacts with customers, etc, etc, because people are watching and judging…always.  This touchpoint of “marketing” is as important if not more, than anything you can put on your website or brochure.  Get your culture established correctly, empower your team to do what they need to do, and the rest will take care of itself.

I will spare all the details, but Jen let me know that the Denver flight was cancelled because of a mechanical problem, which gives her a little more flexibility in changing my flight.  She worked with me for almost 30 minutes booking, unbooking, rebooking, maneuvering, option after option, nothing really working…and then her face drops a bit “uhoh…your flight from Chicago to Tokyo is now delayed because of mechanical problems. They are saying possibly 5pm, but it will probably end up being later”  Crap, so at the earliest, I’ll now be getting into Seoul at midnight or 1am, and that is IF the plane doesn’t have any more problems, and IF I make my connection from Tokyo to Seoul.  Not good.  She keeps working and working and finally says, “Ok, I’m going to book you on the Seattle–>Seoul flight but the Chicago–>Seattle flight is right at capacity, but I will place you at the top of the Standby list.”  I went to the gate and stared at the Standby List for literally 45 minutes, unable to take my eyes off of it, knowing making this flight made the difference of a minimum of 6 hours, probably more.  Second on the list of 15, two seats available.  Looking good…oh no, third on the list, two seats available…not looking good.  Plane is being boarded, the first person is called, Second on the list, one seat available.  Every person has boarded the plane and their are 4 of us sitting there.  Then I hear, “I’ll just take the next flight” and then on the speaker, “Mr Derek Weber please proceed…” YEEESSSS!!!!  I got the last seat on the plane. Phew.

So, here are the list of different itineraries I had before lunch:

1) STL (6am Friday)–>Denver–>LA–>Seoul (5:30pm Saturday)

2) STL (10am Friday)–>Chicago–>Tokyo–>Seoul (9pm Saturday)

3) STL (6:30am Friday)–>Chicago–>Tokyo–>Seoul (1am Sunday)

4) STL (6:30am Friday)–>Chicago–>Seattle–>Seoul (6pm Saturday)

…and after a quick stop over in Seattle and a long flight across the Pacific, I landed safely into Incheon Airport in Korea!

Airport Lesson #4: As you can see, from the original ticket I booked, I did not fly on a single one of the planes I was lined up for, but still ended up getting to Seoul only a few minutes after the original plan.  A few years ago I read a book called “Flight Plan” by Brian Tracy, with a very interesting premise, similar to what I faced.  Mr Tracy wrote that airplanes typically are “off course” over 95% of the time from when they take off to when they land according to the original flight plan.  The pilots steer the plan a little left or right, up or down to avoid other air traffic and storm cells or to catch a tail wind or avoid a head wind.  All along the way the plane is heading in the general direction of the destination, but with hundreds if not thousands of small, incremental adjustments.  Such is the direction of a business…and of life.

When you create your Annual Plan for your business or a plan for any objective for that matter, know that staying directly on the “planned path” is not what is important, but that you are pointed in the right direction, and you are able to pay attention and learn along the way.  We talk about this all the time at goBRANDgo!.  We are more focused on moving forward towards our goals, using our Mission, Vision, and Values as our compass, than making sure we are following our Plan to the letter.  I’m not sure where I first read it, but the mantra of “Failing Forward” is what we repeatedly preach…we can make the adjustments to correct the route as we go, but if we aren’t up in the air, if we aren’t making things happen, there’s nothing to correct…all you’ve got is a plan.

Moral(s) of the story:

1) Take good care of your customers, especially when they are in difficult situations…you will create a raving fan or a raving critic–your choice.

2) Stay light and nimble in order to take advantage of opportunities that arise…as your business grows, make sure layers of bureaucracy don’t weigh down your responsiveness.

3) People are watching and judging everything you and your employees do…act accordingly.

4) Don’t be afraid to take-off without know every step of every part of the plan. No amount of planning will ever prepare you for what you will encounter throughout your journey, so just go! for it and continually adjust your course along the way.  As it’s been said “it’s better to make a wrong decision than no decision at all.”

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