Reading time – uncharacteristically longer than 39 seconds – and worth it!
The baggage handler wasn’t supposed to be perched 25 feet in the air standing at the tip of the baggage conveyor, their nose just a few inches from the captain’s storm window.
The whole thing started the day before with my long flight, a poor night’s sleep and then delivering a half-day Fully Alive Leadership workshop to some very bright people, so I was bushed by the time I arrived at the Vancouver, BC airport to go home. First was the hop to Seattle, then an hour there and at last they were calling my flight to O’Hare. There was just enough time to call Marilyn, so I hastily did that, then set my iPhone and Bluetooth headset on my business case. I hung the case from the strap dangling from my wheeled carry-on and headed for the priority boarding lane and moments later was settled into seat 9C.
As they were announcing that they had closed the cabin door I pulled my bag from under 8C to dig out my phone and put it into airplane mode. That’s when I discovered that it wasn’t in its pocket, nor was it anywhere else in my bag. I realized that in my fatigue I had left the phone and headset on top of my bag, rather than stuffing them into the secure pocket. They must have fallen off as I rolled my bags toward check in and were probably now on the floor in the terminal about 30 feet from the entrance to the jet bridge. As I recall, that’s when I uttered several words Mom told me not to say.
Fellow passenger Megan was sitting across the aisle in 9D and realized what was going on, so she offered to call my phone so that I could listen for the ring. She dialed, but my ringtone (David Rose’s The Stripper) couldn’t be heard.
Flight attendant Allicia (yes, with two l’s) was watching all of this and came down the aisle to inquire what was going on. I told her that I had dropped my phone and headset in the gate area, whereupon she turned and walked forward to her station by the flight deck door. She picked up the gray telephone handset and started talking, this as the plane was being pushed back from the gate and with the engines starting to wind up.
After a minute or so Allicia put down the handset and shortly after that the plane moved forward – back toward the jet bridge. Megan said maybe they were going back to fetch my phone, but I told her the obvious, that a pushed back airplane returneth for no man and certainly for no iPhone.
The plane remained motionless with the engines running for about three minutes. Then I saw the flight deck door open, Allicia reached in and then came walking down the aisle toward me with my phone and headset in hand.
Apparently, Megan’s call to locate my phone had alerted the gate attendant and she picked it up, along with the headset. Shortly after that the captain contacted the gate attendant (or the other way ‘round) and they crafted a plan to transfer my phone and headset to the plane.
The gate attendant gave the phone and headset to a ramp baggage handler. They moved a baggage conveyor to the nose of the airplane, elevated the business end of it to storm window height, the baggage handler walked up the conveyor and handed the pieces to the captain through the open window.
And that is how a baggage handler became perched at the tip of a baggage conveyor about 25 feet in the air.*
If you have misplaced your cell phone for any significant period of time you know what an inconvenience it is. In my case, I had yet more international travel coming up and it would have taken over a week to be reunited with my phone, all the while living like some electronic ancient in, say, 1990. That would have been bad, because business just doesn’t work that way now.
So, kudos to Megan and Allicia – that’s her with me in the picture, both of us a bit bleary-eyed at our arrival at O’Hare around 11:00PM. Kudos to the captain, the gate agent and that perched-at-the-tip-of-a-conveyor baggage handler, none of whose names I know. To each of you, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
Allicia, if you’re able, please pass along my thanks to all for the superb, gracious and much appreciated service. Point those folks to this blog so that they get a direct dose of my appreciation.
To all, consider that sometimes we humans love to complain. We complain when the flight leaves late or arrives late. We complain because the seat is cramped or that they don’t serve food (get over it – this is air transportation, not a restaurant). We complain that it takes five hours to fly coast-to-coast (get over that, too – it used to take six months for that trip).
When something really good like my iPhone affair happens it’s important to wave the flag for those responsible. It’s fundamental to human nature to celebrate success, so, tell you what: Brown bag your airplane meal, be grateful for such fast transportation and sing the praises of those who serve you well. They deserve your thanks and praise.
And, because you read this column regularly you know this is coming: Recognizing and celebrating people doing great work is a really great leadership thing to do. Tag, you’re it.
PS Because I don’t know whether the baggage handler who passed my phone to the captain was male or female, I’ve used the pronoun “they” in order to be gender neutral. For those offended by my awkward use of a plural pronoun for a single person I offer my appreciation for your grammar excellence and my sincere hope that you get over it. 😉
* It’s possible that the baggage handler wasn’t on a baggage conveyor at all, but instead was standing at the end of the jet bridge. I was in seat 9C and could not see what happened from there. Regardless of where that baggage handler was, the customer service from everyone involved was outstanding – and it’s a much better story with the baggage handler on tip of the conveyor!
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