The Power of Courtesy

Posted 11.09.2010

I travel a lot.  Mainly domestic in the US, two or three round trip flights a month for business.  In an average year, I'll travel internationally once or twice.  This week, I'm in Florence, Italy to speak to a group of newly promoted executives.

If you fly in the US very often, you know that you kind of have to put on your armor to get through the cattle call type feel of navigating through crowded, noisy airports and squeezing onto a plane where it's likely that you're going to have the head of the person in front of you almost in your lap when they recline their seat.  Not a lot of fun really.

Brusselsairport Guess that's why I was so impressed by the experience of connecting through Brussels yesterday.  It's the cleanest, most open, quietest airport I've been in in a long time.  Maybe ever.  The waiting area at the gate was the picture of calm.  When the gate agent announced it was time to board, everyone quietly got up and moved gracefully into line.  There was none of the jostling for position that you typically see at the gates at my home airport of Dulles.

Maybe everyone was calm because the process of getting through security was so pleasant.  Yes, pleasant.  There was a bit of a line, but everyone was cool about that.  After I put my bags through the scanner, I walked through the electronic portal and it beeped.  Since I fly a lot, I usually know what I can have on my person without making it beep.  When it did in Brussels, a very courteous guy asked me with a smile if I could step to the side so he could search me.  He told me everything he was going to do, maintained friendly eye contact, patted me down and then scanned me with his electronic wand.  It turns out that my passport had some sort of magnetic strip that set off the machine.  We laughed a little about that.  He wished me a nice day and sent me on my way.

Boarding the Brussels Air regional jet to Florence, the flight attendant (his badge said Purser actually) greeted all of us with a smile.  He spoke perfect English, French, German and Italian and opened and closed every interaction with a smile.  You could feel the calm radiating throughout the plane.  That was maintained right through the announcement from the pilot that we were going to have to divert to Bologna because of severe wind conditions in Florence.  It didn't feel like a big deal and it really wasn't.  There was a big bus waiting for us on the tarmac and we were in the Bologna terminal within five minutes.  From there, I caught a taxi to the train station, hopped on TrenItalia to Florence and was at my hotel maybe an hour later than originally planned.

With a six hour time change and 18 hours of travel, it had been a long day but not a stressful one.  I'm convinced that a big reason for that was because of the courtesy of the people I came in contact with and that humans were considered in the design of processes and public spaces.  When you think about it, it's really not that hard to incorporate courtesy and consideration into everyday life.  Makes me wonder what the leadership opportunities are there.