I’m on an airplane a couple hundred times a year. Been doing this most of my career… and I’ve seen it all. Delays, cancelations, medical emergencies, crew no-shows, turbulence, crying babies, mechanical failure… you name it… I’ve experienced it!
But what happened on my flight to Atlanta today is something that I’ve never seen before.
I sat in the first row. The bulk head as they call it. I always try sitting in the first row because of my claustrophobia. Then, a middle-aged couple boards the plane late and sits in the two seats behind me. The gentleman (or lack of a gentleman) started freaking out that there was no more overhead space in business class for his rollaway. Demanded that the flight attendant make sure no economy passengers stole his overhead space. When the flight attendant politely asked the gentleman to gate check his bag… you would have thought she asked this man to drink gasoline. Kind of wish he did drink gasoline because then came the temper, the tirade, the rudeness – like I’ve never seen before.
I’m literally sitting three feet away from all of this. The flight attended is shaking. All the folks sitting around this guy were getting worried… wondering if this guy was going to start swinging. My heart was beating faster than on a treadmill. I literally was thinking back to my father’s words to me years ago when I was experiencing a school bus bully in the seventh grade. “When you punch someone, son, don’t just punch at them… but punch through them.” I didn’t have any more bullying going on at the bus stop… needless to say!
Back to the crazy guy sitting in 2F. The flight attendant, bless her heart, stood up to the guy. Told him that she will not allow him to speak to her like that. Told him he needed to calm down or he will need to find alternative transportation. The guy would not let up. Sadly, his wife was sitting next to him totally embarrassed and apologizing on his behalf.
Finally, the flight attendant goes to the cockpit and speaks with the Captain. I overheard the entire conversation. This pilot was such a wimp. Instead of telling her that he had her back. He basically tells her to address the situation herself. What a coward.
Besides punching out Patrick Downey at the bus stop thirty-seven years ago, I don’t have many featherweight belts in my trophy case. None, in fact. I was hoping the pilot… the Captain of the plane… the guy in charge…would come over and set this guy straight. Wishful thinking.
Security was called. I was asked to get off the plane and give an eye witness testimony. The Captain was nowhere to be found. And this is what I told security and the flight attendant. “Three people need to be kicked off the plane… the jerk passenger and his wife and the pilot who didn’t have the guts to stand up for his flight attendant!”
A half-hour later, security did kick the jerk guy and his poor wife off the plane. Which was another scene all in itself. The flight attendant was shaking the entire time. Three-hour flight… her hands never stopped shaking.
During the flight I comforted her. Told her she handled herself perfectly. She shared that in twenty years of being a flight attendant, she never had to do something like this. And then I told her that, unfortunately, she didn’t have to do it all alone. Her thumb sucking pilot… so called Captain… should have had her back. Tears were in her eyes as she was shaking her head in agreement.
In our lifetimes. In our careers. In our households. In our communities. And on flights to Atlanta… we are going to be confronted with jerk passengers sitting in Row 2F. We are going to witness our work colleagues, our friends and our loved ones hurt by people. Heart-Led Leaders don’t need to be Mike Tyson like. But they need to always have the backs of those that choose to follow them.
You want to build a culture of trust? You want to foster teams of steel? You want to develop lifelong employees. Well, it starts with the Captain. It starts with leaders.
Heart-Led Leaders need to pat you on the back when things go well, but more importantly, they need to have the backs of those they love and serve, when times are tough.
 
When we landed in Atlanta, I hugged the flight attendant. Never done that before. But much rather have hugged the flight attendant than have to follow through with my dad’s bus stop boxing advice over three decades ago and deal with the guy sitting in row 2F!