You stand in long, slow-moving lines as your flight time approaches. The security agent decides to open your bag and display your personal items for everyone to see. Your flight is delayed and gets pushed back every 30 minutes. The moron sitting next to you is practically screaming into his cell phone. The gate agent smirks as she assigns you to the worst seat on the airplane. The flight attendant shrugs as you wedge yourself into a middle seat between two oversized Krispy Kreme models.
You're having a bad day at the airport, and your patience has all but disappeared. What you do next is crucial, for these days it is not only dangerous to make a scene, it can also land you in jail. Every one of us is capable of losing it at the airport, and I've seen the most unlikely individuals lose their cool and get hauled off by the authorities.
Using 10 real-life incidents as examples, let me suggest that you may be about to lose your cool if you feel like doing any of the following things:
1. Breaking the neck of a gate agent.
2. Yelling "Bomb!" at the top of your lungs just to get the security line moving faster.
3. Spreading your feces all over the walls in first class because you didn't get the upgrade you wanted.
4. Faking a heart attack to get someone at customer service to rebook your ticket.
5. Screaming "UUHHH!" in the ear of the pilot after a long flight exacerbated by his irritating announcements.
6. Breaking the teeth of the loud caller next to you, and then grabbing his cell phone and parking it up his tookus.
7. Singing loudly in the aisles about what a horrible airline you're on for the duration of the flight.
8. Hanging yourself in the lavatory.
9. Breaking the fingers of a ticket agent who, you've decided, is too absorbed with her keyboard.
10. Urinating on the flight attendant when she yells at you about you being out of your seat while the seat-belt sign is on.
The problem is that flying can be an unsettling experience, even if you fly a lot. Besides all the industry annoyances — long lines, rude workers, confusing security and airport directives, delays, cancellations, bad attitudes, airline inefficiencies — you have all your own stuff to worry about: personal stress, claustrophobia, hunger, sleep deprivation, fear of flying, maybe an angry boss back at the office. It's a volatile mix, and the final straw can be the most trivial vexation — a kid crying, or a spilled Coke.
Early in my career as a flight attendant, I reached that boiling point many times, but it hasn't happened in more than 10 years. The stresses and frustrations have not subsided; in fact, they've gotten worse. So, how do I cope? It goes beyond counting to 10, but that's a good start, so here are 10 tips for keeping your cool when you are about to make a scene at the airport.
1. Walk it off. You know that little voice telling you not to do anything rash? Listen to that voice. The fact is, nothing good can come of the scene you are about to make. If anything, it will make matters much worse. So stand up, turn away from the problem, and go for a walk. Keep walking until you have thought things through.
2. Keep your distance. Don't get involved with someone else's fight, especially if it looks like hostilities might develop. So many people have been arrested when it wasn't their battle in the first place.
3. Get distracted. Bring out the family pictures, turn on your iPod, buy your wife some perfume at the duty-free shop, make a phone call to a calm friend — anything that will remind you what is more important to you.
4. Stretch. You have probably clenched your muscles into a ball, allowing an annoyance to get the better of you. Stretching can increase blood flow and release some of the tension you have built up for yelling at someone. If you see one of those wandering airport massage therapists, get a massage. They are well worth the money.
5. Be heard. If you can talk in a rational voice and tone, and it is an important matter, be sure to speak up. But pick your battles, as some just aren't winnable.
6. Seek better understanding. Always put the shoe on the other foot. Understanding the situation and the motivation of others can put matters in a much clearer perspective.
7. Respect yourself. You know that you are a better person than the one who is about to engage in a yelling match. Ask yourself: "What do I hope to gain by this ordeal? What is the best possible outcome? Am I part of the solution or am I part of the problem?" Answering honestly can lead you to a better course of action.
8. Don't take everything so personally. If the flight attendants say to sit down when the seat-belt sign comes on, they mean everyone — not just you. There's no personal challenge here. OK, granted, they don't have to be so rude, but that is another subject.
9. Spread forgiveness. If you make a complete ass of yourself and feel bad about your uncharacteristic behavior, apologize immediately. Similarly, instantly accept the apologies of others. Remorse is a heavy burden.
10. Laugh. You could yell, cry, throw a punch or get nasty (all of which I have done at one time or another) or you could just laugh. Chuckle at the absurdities and/or the people involved. It is so much more enjoyable and healthy than the alternatives.
Laughing is the way I get through this life and the motto I try to live by is this: He who laughs, lasts!
James Wysong has worked as a flight attendant with two major international carriers during the past fifteen years. He is the author of the "The Plane Truth: Shift Happens at 35,000 Feet" and "The Air Traveler's Survival Guide." For more information about James or his books, please visit or .