My plan had been to spend the past two weeks on the East Coast. First week was external partner meetings and second was going to be internal science meetings. I never like two weeks away from home, but this approach would have avoided a ‘day return to the UK’ and would have been my first two week stay in nine months.
My plan changed when we realised that I needed to be in the UK during the second week for an important site visit. The revised plan all seemed OK; I could get an early evening flight back to London from Philadelphia on the Sunday after a short internal US flight. I would be home Monday morning and on Site Tuesday afternoon – plenty of time to host the visit.
Internal US flights are a strange beast. This year I have been on large planes with jet engines and hundreds of fellow passengers and on small planes with propellers and ten fellow passengers. When I want the internal flight to be on time and smooth…it is late and turbulent. When I am relaxed and have time to spare…flights are on time and rapid. My Sunday schedule required the connecting flight to be on time and rapid. Bad news.
East Coast winters? Internal flights are at risk from snow storms. East Coast summers…the same is true but from thunder storms. I checked in early on Sunday…sat in the departure lounge…only to discover my flight was delayed. I had no choice but to wait and hope. I was relaxed after a great weekend. I would be all right after all with my ninety minutes to transfer at Philly. The storms cleared and I was on my way. Good news.
At least I was on the turboprop sitting on the runway waiting for final clearance. Still relaxed. I was confident I would be OK for time. We landed at Terminal F only 25 minutes before my UK flight left Terminal A. Bad news.
I jumped onto a shuttle bus which – for some reason – only took me to Terminal C. I arrived at my gate four minutes after the doors closed. I was history. Bad news.
‘No problem’ the airport staff said, ‘we can definitely get you on the later – 11:00pm – flight. Good news. Bad news.
Four hours later I was called to the desk…expecting to be handed my ticket. ‘I am sorry but the late flight is full after all’. It was one of those moments. Those moments when every sinew in your body is telling you to scream and shout; to bang on the desk and demand. But another part of you is saying stay calm and smile. Someone once explained to me that it is very easy to not help someone who is being unpleasant, and much easier for them to help someone who is being pleasant. I smiled…I apologised (really)…I told my story…I laughed. It worked – the check in staff started working with me on options.
My solution was quite surreal. I rented a car and drove 130 miles from Philly to New York…arriving at JFK around 3:00am. My London ‘day-flight’ check in was 5:30am so I had no choice but to grab a couple of hours sleep in a chair in the terminal. I arrived home Monday evening around 9:00pm – only 12 hours later than our original plan. I made it to work Wednesday morning, and the site visit was a great success.
And I confirmed what I knew – that no matter what happens…being social and interactive is more fun and a more successful way of achieving whatever it is you want to achieve.