June 2018
When There Is No Playground
Marcus Engel
One of the questions I get most often is, "Marcus, how on earth do you navigate airports?" Fair question since airports are chaotic for most everyone, not just guys using Seeing Eye dogs.
The truth is, airports have enough obstacles that I find them nearly impossible to navigate solo. For me, or any other passengers with special needs, the airports employ individuals to meet and assist people from the curb to the gate or from the gate to baggage claim, etc. These are often minimum wage jobs with tons of turnover. You can only imagine the difficulties these folks have with passengers who are stressed out with travel.
So, while flying out of St. Louis last week, I had a meet and assist person named Jim. I struck up a conversation with Jim and asked my usual questions; how long have you worked here? Do you like your job? How many miles per day do you walk to and from the terminals?
Jim said that he's worked at Lambert Airport for four years - that's an eternity in this line of work. He said he loves his job and that the airport is a "really positive environment." Really? A positive environment?
If you've ever worked retail, or with the public in any capacity, you know that the vast majority of people are no problem... it's just that small percentage of folks that are a total PIA. And, of course, those are the ones that stand out. Jim absolutely must deal with people who are stressed out and frustrated, so for him to "manage up" by complimenting his workplace was especially rare. Then, I got a little better glimpse into who Jim is as a person...
After stepping through security, Jim and I continued down the terminal. As often happens, Elliott was spotted by kids who love dogs and the high-pitched alert of, "Doggy, Mommy, doggy!" rang out. I turned to Jim and said, "Welcome to my life! It's filled with kids who get excited over seeing a dog in an airport."
Jim said, "That's so cool for these kids! I mean, we don't have a playground or anything in this terminal. I'm glad those kids can get some energy out when they see your dog!"
If you've been in an airplane with children, you know it's not always the easiest environment. Loads of passengers get miffed by loud children at the gate and in the cabin. I always say that when you live in Orlando, you've gotta love being around kids or you'll just be disgruntled all the time, but really, this isn't just Orlando. You can get ticked off about whatever, wherever, whenever. Getting aggravated is a choice. Know who knows this? Jim.
Think back to our short conversation. Even with dealing with stressed out travelers, Jim made the choice to refer to his workplace as a really positive environment. And, instead of getting irritated by unruly children, he immediately went to empathy; feeling sorry for kids who didn't have outlets to burn off energy. Friends, I wasn't expecting to get a life lesson early that morning... but just like getting frustrated, you can look at the opposite end of that spectrum. And, thanks to Jim, my day of travelling got started off on the right foot.
Today, I want to encourage you to do as Jim does - respond with empathy and compassion. After all, we all need more of this in our lives.

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