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When things aren’t going quite according to plan, breathe

Faith WoodJust when did we all become so sensitive and overreactive to situations beyond our control?

Recently, my husband and I travelled to San Diego for a surprise birthday and anniversary party. The weekend was a ton of fun as we connected with family we hadn’t seen for a long time. However, the travel was filled with some interesting and entertaining moments that illustrated how reactive people are to conflict and stress.

If you’ve ever travelled, you know the challenges that transportation can create. They range from cranky flight crews to unruly passengers to snarky security and border control folks (mainly because they have had to spend their entire shift addressing overreactive people).

As a professional speaker who must travel for work, I’ve had my fair share of trying moments. I’ve seen flight attendants asleep for an entire five-hour flight, had hotel rooms cancelled due to late arrival, and been lost in a strange city. I’ve been bumped from purchased seats with no explanation. I’ve had other passengers who feel the need to grab my seat (or my head) as they make their way up the aisle for the hundredth pee break. Let’s not even talk about the folks who need to fully recline their seats on top of you in what is already tight quarters: perhaps those recline options should be banned completely.

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No one likes travel stress, but sometimes we create our own problems and cause unnecessary delays.

I recall a story of an overweight passenger being asked to move further back into the plane to balance the load for takeoff and landing. This woman became incensed and accused staff of picking on her and harassing her due to her size. After a 30-minute delay, she was still required to move before the flight could depart safely. Come on, folks, be accommodating and assume good intent.

Traipsing through security, a gentleman behind me was selected for additional wand screening. He was outraged as he was travelling with a NEXUS card (a trusted traveller program) and ought not to have been chosen. Of course, the whole line was NEXUS. Then he demanded a full body scan rather than be subjected to the wand. This wasn’t a pat-down, and, as a trusted traveller, he should understand that security has a tough enough job dealing with abusive and stressed-out passengers. They have a job to do. Your appeals won’t change the selection process – all they do is hold up the line and cause a chain reaction of missed or delayed flights.

On our recent trip to San Diego, we departed the city airport during rush hour. We needed to get to Escondido, and traffic and construction were intense. So, we activated the GPS. As we dodged and weaved through traffic with the GPS set to find less-congested routes, we predictably found ourselves deeply embedded in congestion rather than flow. With every missed turn, the GPS found an alternate route, but none with significantly less traffic. By the time we were navigating our way around the major freeway due to a fire that had all lanes at a standstill, my father and my husband started commenting that the GPS was deliberately creating problems.

Seriously? This is an algorithm, not a living, breathing woman. If you have ever argued with your GPS, it would be wise to remember this (you know who you are!).

As we sat in the endless line of traffic, some drivers felt they were more important than the cue and chose to pass other vehicles on the shoulder. This only adds to stress and chaos. There’s no place to go, and the drivers in front who have patiently waited will take measures to cut off your line-jumping. This will likely cause another collision and/or road rage. Do yourself a favour – just turn up the music and wait your turn.

After a fabulous weekend, we headed for home. As we made our approach, we hit a tremendous amount of turbulence. The young kids in the plus seats had a great outlook on things. With every bump and G-force drop, they squealed with delight and called out for more. It must have felt like an amusement ride. This playful energy had many adults laughing in no time, which completely disarmed a stressful moment.

So when things aren’t going quite according to plan, breathe. It’s very likely not personal. Stop overreacting and assuming negative intent. Behave more like children and look for the joy in what would otherwise be a situation of anxiety.

Happy travelling.

Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. 

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