Just throw your airfare under the car.
This is me looking down on my old high school–literally, not figuratively–where as a freshman, I had a neighborhood paper route.
It’s significant for me now to look down on my old paper route there–the Sacramento Bee, daily and Sunday, over a hundred customers–because in those days I looked up from my bike as I tossed newspapers, wistfully watching the airliners climbing toward the Sierras. I have the better of the two views now.
But I also relate to a “customer service” lesson I learned on the paper route that’s just as valid from my present perspective a few miles above my old paper route and and two hundred times faster than bike speed.
The biggest pain every month had to be collecting from customers. And the worst of that was at the house of a junior high school principal who lived on the route.
Ring the bell. Wait. He comes to the door and points to his driveway.
“Your money’s under the car–where I normally find my paper.” Crawl under the car; at least he usually had exact change. Every month.
Which didn’t seem fair, because his paper wasn’t under his car every day. Just now and then, because I had about 137 papers to throw from my moving bike, often with a dog or two chasing me, and a lot of days in the rain.
I think of that percentage as we top the Sierras (that’s Lake Tahoe in the middle) because we’re running about forty minutes late.
Of the one hundred and forty people on board, I’m sure that one or two are steaming like my old customer, wanting to see me crawl under the car because this is what “always happens.” No dogs chasing me this time, but yes, weather slowing things down and a traffic-jammed Air Traffic Control system.
For that guy, and those of his ilk, there’s no explaining what goes on and why–they’re really not listening anyway and just want to tell their neighbors about how the paperboy has to crawl under the car to get his measly $3.50 a month.
But for the majority of reasonable folks on board, here’s a behind the scenes explanation for the common frustration experienced by all but seemingly insurmountable for the “under the car” minority.
Why doesn’t the pilot tell us what’s going on? Well, because . . . it is going on: two nights ago, we were taxiing in the aluminum conga line to the runway, watching on radar as a ring of storms converged on the airport.
There’s no time to spare. I’m recalculating fuel burn for a new route, listening to and answering ground control giving instructions on one radio, monitoring the other radio that my first officer is on negotiating a new route from Clearance Delivery and steering the jet with my feet on the rudder pedals. And that’s not all that’s “going on;” it’s taking shape as the minutes tick by and the ring of towering cumulus closes in on the airport. I don’t have time to step out of the task mix and say “here’s what’s happening” because it’s changing by the minute.
It’s difficult enough when one of the Flight Attendants call up and ask “What’s the delay?” The answer would be, “I’m doing five things at once; don’t call me back unless we’re on fire.” Most Flight Attendants realize that and don’t call. If they do, I realize they’re taking heat from the hundreds of eyeballs boring into theirs as they sit on their emergency exit jumpseats. Any wonder why some of them may be a little defensive?
So–I know this is not what you want to hear, but–if I’m not saying anything on the P.A., it’s because there’s nothing for me to say and no time to say it anyway. And even what information there is changes by the minute. Even if you wanted to be part of the chaos, I don’t have the time to narrate what’s going on and still keep up with it and stay on top of our flight priority in the mix. Can you just get started on your crossword puzzle and trust that we’re doing our jobs as efficiently and safely as we can?
Once we do get into the air, we have another 4 hours of flight. So make it the New York Times crossword: it’s in the “Entertainment” section, on the driveway. Under your car.
Meanwhile, lighten up on the paperboy, okay? He’s doing the best he can.