An Open Letter to the United Airlines Worker at Gate A8 in Nashville on Tuesday

Lady, you’re a rock star at what you do.

Most people wouldn’t want your job even on a good day. We’ve become a nation of entitled people you know, and you deal with some of the most entitled among us, the “Do-you-have-any-idea-who-Iam?!!?” types who want what they want, when and how they want it. Boarding Group 1. Three over-sized carry ons.  No fees and on time.  Every time. No excuses.  God forbid their flights should be cancelled.

But cancelled they were on Tuesday when a snowstorm brought air travel to a grinding halt across much of the country.

Just as I arrived at the gate, you breezed in from some other direction, papers in hand, clearly on a mission to make an announcement.  I picked up bits of conversation in the crowd –  a large group traveling together, maybe a Teach for America group going to a convention. I’m not sure. That’s not the part that stuck with me. What I remember distinctly is that your calm and sweet voice told this group their flight was cancelled, something about missing a crew member and not being able to send them on without the proper paperwork.  You told them how truly sorry you were that they were experiencing this.  You oozed empathy and sympathy and understanding, and you meant every word. I heard it in your voice. I saw it on your face.  And I was blown away by your skill! After all, who can rise up and riot against THAT? You had them in the palm of your hand.

You didn’t stop there, though. You got on the phone in front of everybody and continued to search for a solution. As you talked, you made eye contact with those waiting and watching. You shot them a smile, a wink. I saw hope in their eyes, and I knew they knew you were trying – really, really trying hard – to get a Plan B in motion for them.

Your plan? A bus! You got them a bus so that they could stay together and get where they needed to go! The next day was the soonest it could happen, but your effort coupled with your masterful delivery of the news elicited a cheer from that crowd.  (Yes, folks, a cheer erupted at Gate A8 in Nashville when she delivered the news that this group would leave a day late and on a bus to their destination. Wow! How many of us could pull that one off, I ask you.)

But wait, there’s more! You came out from behind the counter and waved them over into a huddle with an excited, “We need to have a vote!” I watched them. Grins everywhere as some people jumped over luggage to join you while others took more conventional routes with a spring in their step. It looked for all the world like they were enjoying this! I couldn’t hear what was said in the huddle, but apparently it worked out because suddenly a roar went up from the crowd. Papers flew into the air in celebration. Applause erupted.

Disaster averted.

My flight was cancelled about that time, and I went back to the hotel. On television, the nightly news pretty much centered around the effects of the weather – city officials in the South hammered with questions about why they weren’t better equipped for the sudden shift in those upper level disturbances that brought unexpected levels of snowfall to their cities that rarely experience it (see Paragraph 1 re: we are entitled) as well as a fair number of feel-good stories about restaurants feeding  stranded motorists and stores allowing them to sleep on their floors. That’s when I smiled, remembering how you worked your magic on the stranded travelers earlier in the evening.  I was sorry I hadn’t caught your name so I could send a note to your supervisors telling them what an incredible thing you did for those customers – no, those people. So, I’m writing this instead. I hope it finds its way to you because I want you to know that I was completely and totally impressed by the way you handled yourself at work Tuesday – your unflappable demeanor, your focus on the needs – but more importantly –  the feelings of the people standing in front of you, and your never-say-die spirit. I had fun watching you.

United Airlines, take note.  You have a gem in this woman. Treat her well!