I was recently traveling from Houston, TX, back to Oklahoma City, and as usual, I was flying Southwest. If you have ever flown SW, you know the drill: Line up according to your boarding number, A1-A60 first. My boarding position this trip was A31, so I was at the very front of the second line. Things at the airport were running “normal”: there was nice weather outside and the process progressed per usual. However, our boarding time passed. This was curious, as the gate door was open and the gate agent was at the computer terminal ready to begin scanning boarding documents, but the pilot was loitering just inside the jet bridge. Normally, he or she would be busy readying the plane for takeoff.
The gate agent was periodically talking with the captain, but they were out of earshot, so I couldn’t pick up what they were saying. Finally after about 15 minutes of this, a Southwest supervisor came up to the gate agent and asked, “Why are you not boarding?”
“We are short one flight attendant, who is late arriving on another flight,” was the response. I was not aware of this, but if the full complement of flight attendants is not on board to assist passengers, there is no boarding of the plane. It’s one of those things that makes you internally groan since you understand there are regulations that must be followed, but you are still going to be inconvenienced by the delay.
Then the supervisor said this: “I’m going on my dinner break, but I will stand in for the missing flight attendant so you can proceed with boarding.” This was a magical statement. She was willing to board the plane, giving all 148 of us who were waiting the opportunity to also board, and thus likely allow for the flight to leave on time. And she did it with a smile. It was truly in keeping with what I have come to expect from Southwest. In fact, by the time I was in the jet bridge heading down to the plane, I saw the supervisor coming back the other way, the missing flight attendant having made it in the meantime. She looked at me, recognized that I had overheard the original exchange, and said, “I’ll bet my dinner is still warm!”
Sometimes, things just go wrong. And when they do, it is up to senior leaders to exhibit… leadership. That may mean coordinating activities or other similar managerial functions, but sometimes, you have to man a post, pick up a phone, or address a customer concern. Doing so shows that you care about enhancing the customer experience. But it also sends a strong signal to your team that you are ready, willing, and able to do whatever is necessary to achieve a positive end result. Be that leader.