Lessons in Listening

Over the weekend I flew on an airline I had never experienced before. As many people seem to consider airline/air travel bashing a pass time, I am constantly watching for differences between the airlines and what may contribute to one airline being on the hit list while others may be the benchmark of how to do things right.

My initial impressions were of a very professional, efficient operation. The flight director was clear, concise, friendly and respectful. We were directed courteously and quickly. We were encouraged to sit quickly for the benefit of all the passengers and yet did not feel rushed – in fact I wanted to be as quick as possible to be part of helping us leave on time, maybe even early.

Things were going swimmingly well, everyone was seated, the door was closed, final preparations were being made…and then it happened.

The flight director had asked us twice, possibly three times as we were being seated to turn off our cell phones. After the door was closed, she made a clear announcement to ensure we had done so as we could not leave the gate until all cell phones were off.

I am not sure exactly what happened at this point other than the flight director asked a woman to turn off her cell phone. I heard a female voice say something. Then the flight director went back again and said very firmly, almost harshly to turn it off.

This is where I got very interested as I watched a break-down in listening and communication ON BOTH PARTS take place. In bullet points, here is what I witnessed:

  • the passenger (an elderly woman) raised her voice back to say something (which I could not hear)
  • the flight director raised her voice to tell her “No, turn it off now!”
  • the flight director went back to the front of the cabin
  • the passenger yelled “I was just checking to make sure it was off!”
  • the flight director called the pilot and tell him “a passenger won’t turn off her cell phone.”
  • the pilot got on the intercom and in a very professional manner told us all how important it was to turn off our cell phones, how it does cause interference, how we can all appreciate that he wants to be able to hear traffic control, etc, etc
  • the passenger had turned her head to look out the window
  • the flight director stood at the front looking straight down the aisle

Now, I did not see what the passenger was or was not doing to ignite the entire situation and I imagine that the cell phone at least appeared to be on when we had been told to turn them off.

I can appreciate that after having asked us many times as we boarded and once when we were all on board and seated that the flight director saw this as a blatant refusal to comply. I also imagine that this is not the first time the flight director has encountered this and that she likely felt she was not being listened to and even being outright defied.

I can also appreciate however that the passenger felt she was not being listened to either. She might have been ignoring the flight director or she might very well have not heard the first time or might have been checking to make sure it was off at which point it actually turned on and she had to turn it off again. I imagine she felt that she was misunderstood as she tried to explain why her phone was on.

From each of their perspectives they were mistreated and to a degree they are both right. To a degree they are both wrong as well.

Maybe the passenger did not listen and was defying the request.

Maybe the passenger is hard of hearing and did not hear the first few times we were instructed to turn cell phones off.

Maybe the passenger is not fully familiar with the technology.

Maybe the passenger just needed a few seconds to process the request made before she could respond through appropriate action.

We won’t know.

What I do know is if the flight director had been present and intent on listening, had understood fully that not everyone hears and processes information in the same way or at the same speed that a challenging, tense and embarassing situation could have been avoided all together with only a few seconds of silence to pause and LISTEN.

posted by margo in Uncategorized and has No Comments