EL-ERIAN: Here's The Upside Of A Horrible Travel Delay

www.flickr.comIt is a long weekend and many of you are travelling to be with friends and family. Some will come back with horrid stories of late flights, lost luggage, awful traffic and even collapsed highways. Well, I am trying to make it home after some epic delays. As much as I would like to complain, I am actually thankful for the long delay I have experienced over the last 24 hours.

My adventure started yesterday in New York where I was taking a Delta flight to St Louis to attend a meeting. The combination of a late incoming aircraft and a busy airport meant that, by the time we got in line for the runway, the “air corridors” out were blocked by serious thunderstorms. We waited and waited on the tarmac.

Almost three hours later we were back at the gate for a “fuel and go.” We were allowed to deplane … with one rather important proviso. Delta could not unload any of the bags, including those that were gate checked. As this was one of those small commuter planes with tiny overheads, virtually everyone had given up their carry-ons. So only a couple of people got off the plane.

Back to the tarmac we went for another 3 hours before we finally took off for a rather bumpy 2 ½ hour flight.

Now this was a packed plane with almost 70 on board and one (over-used) bathroom. People were rather crammed, and most had run out of batteries for their phones, computers and tablets. Food was limited.

Yet rather than complain and get edgy, the vast majority was engaging. Indeed, the mood on the plane was pleasant.

You heard very few, if any, complaints when we finally landed in St. Louis, some 7 hours after our scheduled time. Sure important meetings had been missed and plans badly disrupted; but there was a sense of community and, yes, even achievement.

Waiting now (the next day) for yet another delayed flight (American this time), I can’t help thinking how yesterday’s crowd dynamic was so different from what I have previously experienced on long delays. Why?

The cause of the delay – bad weather – was visible to all, and deemed by everyone to be outside the control of the airline. The pilot spoke to us often even though he mostly told us that he knew as much as us (i.e., very, very little).

Yet the constant communication proved re-assuring. And whenever he turned off the engines as we waited on the tarmac, he quickly released the “fasten seat belt” sign and we were allowed to use our electronics.

The flight attendants were also terrific. They were patient, communicative, and caring about individual circumstances.

Then there were the passengers. It was not long before we shared newspapers, snacks, magazines, stories and even family photos.

The result was a supportive and friendly group which, as my wife reminded me on the phone last night, is typical of Midwesterners. By the end of the flight, people were exchanging e-mail addresses and some were even making plans for family get-togethers.

There are many lessons here, particularly for business leaders.

Yes adversity stinks. No one wishes it, and we all seek to avoid it. Yet, when it hits, there are upsides if the aftermath is well managed.

Regular communication is essential, as is a genuine sense of caring and support.

In most instances, groups will do better with a sense of community as opposed to just individually driven. And place the adversity in a larger context; most of the time, it won’t seem so overwhelming. Also, it sure does help to have a critical mass of Midwesterners there!!

Happy weekend and safe travels to all.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.