Captain Johnny & Lessons of Turbulence
We were ready to board the plane. Everything seemed fine for this Barcelona to London Heathrow flight scheduled to leave in about 35 minutes. Just then, the Captain, with his perfectly pressed suit and neatly placed cap, came off the plane, walked right past the boarding crew and directly at us. Kindly waving his arms and calling out, he formed us into a sort of huddle around him and then began to address us. After introducing himself, he said, “Although it is a beautiful day here in Barcelona, and I am sure you have been enjoying this sunny weather, it is not quite so lovely at Heathrow Airport. There are strong gusts of winds that are causing a lot of disturbing air turbulence.” The group was silent. He continued, “Now, there is no need to be worried… This is not a dangerous situation. The effect that it does have is that all incoming flights have been reduced to around 30%-35% of normal flow, for all airlines, including this British Airways flight.
“What that means is that we will most likely have a delay of approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes. All the same, we are trying to negotiate an earlier slot to leave and get you to your destination as soon as possible. To be able to do that, I would like to ask something of you… I would like to have you board the plane now, in full knowledge that we may be sitting at our current boarding dock for the entire 1 hour and 20 minutes. The situation is that if you are already on the plane and the doors are closed, we will be able to accept a take-off slot if it comes available… If not already boarded and ready for takeoff, we would not be able to accept the earlier slot.”
He wrapped up by explaining, “The reason I came out here to talk to you about this is that I don’t want you to feel surprised when I come onto the loudspeaker in the cabin to make the announcement, which I will also need to do.”
Of course we all shook our heads in complete agreement to the request. You could literally feel the tensions subside in the boarding area. We calmly boarded the plane and took our respective seats as instructed. Once on the plane, I took advantage to approach the cockpit and asked permission to enter. The Captain welcomed me into the cockpit and introduced himself as Johnny. I told him, “You know Johnny, I fly around 300,000 miles per year and I have never seen anything like that before.” He looked at me with a kind of twist to his head in bewilderment, and I continued, “The way that you approached us, calling us into a huddle, and so genuinely explained the situation put everyone at ease.” He turned a bit further towards me, looking up from his seat, and said, “You know what… the only thing I could think when I saw all of you gathered around me was: My gosh, I really wish I had taken some kind of public speaking course at some point in my life… I mean… I was terrified!” I reassured him that he did a great job and did not even appear nervous, and also, that his action had succeeded in helping avoid the frustration and uncertainty of simply hearing an announcement of delay immediately after being boarded.
I thought about it later, and realized that it was his level of genuine authenticity that really made the difference. He was courageous enough to just be himself standing in front of more than 80 uncertain passengers. It is the authenticity that we demonstrate as leaders that also makes the difference. It can have a deep effect on how we engage with our colleagues, staff, employees, business partners, providers, clients and customers. Also, it simply feels good!
Next time a turbulent situation rolls your way, I encourage you to think about Captain Johnny, and how facing the circumstances with a step up in genuine authenticity may have a powerful effect… on those around you, and on you yourself in terms of a feeling of balance and well-being.
Aah… by the way, Captain Johnny did negotiate his earlier slot and we took off with only a 20-minute delay. So a happy ending for all!