There’s a certain type of traveler who likes to complain. The flight’s a tad delayed? “This is a travesty! Let me speak to your supervisor!” The in-flight meal’s a little cold? “Give me your name—I’m reporting this as soon as we land!” The TSA line is crawling? “What is this, a third-world country?”
Are you that guy? Don’t be that guy. And if you know that guy, stop being friends with that guy.
It’s never been cool to berate hard-working service people for glitches that most likely are not their fault, but if there was a moment the popular tide began to turn, it may have been the now famous “nut rage” incident on Korean Air. The complaining passenger happened to be an executive of an airline, but the upshot was the same: the Internet came to revile the woman for her bad behavior.
Fortunately, there is another breed of traveler—one who feels the airport and airline worker’s pain, and wants to mitigate it. This person may be epitomized by Tommy Goodwin.
Goodwin says he has the “best job in the world.” As director of field operations at Eventbrite, the live events company, he spends 150 days a year on the road with his team, doing ground support for music festivals, food festivals, and the like. As such, Goodwin has a fair amount of experience with both the joys and woes of business travel. He shares the following tips to make your own travel experience better—and to help ensure that you don’t end up being that guy.
“One of the most important things to remember is to be nice to yourself first,” Goodwin says. “It’s hard to be nice to other people if you’re not in a good place yourself.” Many people think of travel as a horrendous experience, but he says it can be enjoyable if it’s done right. What does that mean in practice? For one thing, give yourself enough time. Don’t show up at the last minute, feeling like you beat the system when a TSA employee waves you through so you can sprint to your flight. Instead, budget more time than you need to get from door to gate, then treat yourself to a happy hour once you’re on the other side of security. “Take a break, or maybe catch up with friends on a phone call. Make that time yours.”
After years of traveling and many thousands of miles traversed, Goodwin knows it’s important to stay organized. This goes beyond the simple things, such as making sure you have your passport. Think ahead: if you’re in line at security, be sure to take off your watch and belt well in advance of approaching the scanner. Take off your jacket and put it in your bag. “Don’t be that guy taking off six different layers of clothing, holding up the line, and making the lives of the TSA people miserable,” Goodwin says. Efficiency is kindness.
This one hits close to home for Goodwin. One reason he’s able to stay in the good graces of harried airport employees is that he’s been the harried service worker himself. (When people have trouble with their Eventbrite tickets—common if someone bought a knockoff through an illicit site—it often falls to Goodwin to calm them down.) When he bumps into a problem while traveling like a delay or mix-up, he doesn’t blow up. “I try to be as considerate as I can, because I know how much my day gets improved if I meet an attendee with an issue, and that person starts with a smile. I take that approach when I interact with anyone on the road—I try to make that 80 seconds of their day as pleasant as possible.” If you’ve never worked in a service role, though, still try to imagine what the flight attendant or baggage checker you’re dealing with is going through: “All of us at some point have moments where we’re overwhelmed,” says Goodwin.
Using a euphemism for a term that’s surged in popularity, Goodwin counsels you not to underestimate the power of that tool for first impressions: your face. Even if smiling is the last thing you feel like doing in the world, try it on: effort counts. “Folks working in airports almost expect people to be grumpy,” says Goodwin; it takes only minimal effort to be an outlier here. What if the TSA woman or check-in man starts the interaction with grumpiness on their end? If somebody is insistent upon being disrespectful, says Goodwin, he counsels you to respond with “aggressive politeness,” the kind of smile and chipper voice that shames bad behavior with its contrast.
An earlier generation of traveler believed that the “squeaky wheel got the grease”: complain, and you will be accommodated. But savvier, kinder travelers of Goodwin’s ilk realize that what goes around, comes around. And that goes for positive behavior, too. On a recent flight, the airline screwed up, accidentally double booking a seat on the airplane. Goodwin arrived at his seat to find a man already seated there. When Goodwin presented his ticket—a duplicate of the seated man’s—the seated man began to freak out: “I’m not giving up my seat! This is ridiculous!” A flight attendant walked over, and while the seated man ranted, Goodwin calmly and politely explained what was going on.
“Please come with me, Mr. Goodwin,” the flight attendant said, leaving the raving man in his seat . . . and took Goodwin straight to first class.