When people crowd the airport baggage claim to form a human wall of entitlement, we could jump to the conclusion that greed is dictating that action. But I choose to believe we simply aren’t thinking about it. As happens in many areas of life, we are on autopilot.
While writing Step Back From the Baggage Claim, where I spent seven straight days living in airports across America, I conducted an interesting Security Line Study.
I hypothesized that most people are annoyed, frustrated, and upset after they come through the security lines. So I sat gate-side at security line checkpoints in Boston, Miami, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Columbus, observing and taking notes on 181 passengers. The result? Only two of them looked upset. Yet only four looked happy.
What did this mean?
We are on autopilot even more than I thought. We’re operating in neutral.
Near the end of my seven-day airport odyssey for the book, I approached the baggage claim in San Diego’s International Airport, ready to make the daydream I had long envisioned a reality. The scene was familiar: a mass of humanity jam-packed around the conveyer belt, five or six rows deep.
My heart raced. It was time.
“Hey everybody,” I shouted amid the sea of people. “I’ve got a great idea. How about we all take three steps back so that everyone can see the conveyer belt? Then, when you see your luggage, go ahead and step forward to claim your bag.”
People actually turned and listened. I had the crowd’s full attention. Some got a kick out of my approach and began laughing. All were listening!
“Oh, and another thing,” I continued in a humorous tone as I put my arm around the randomly picked middle-age woman in front of me. “If you happen to see this nice woman struggling to get her bag from the belt, why don’t we go ahead and help her? Let’s change the world!”
The response was amazing! Some snapped out of their autopilot trance and actually giggled with amusement. People at the front of the belt looked at each other as if to see who would be the first to step back. A woman from near the front yelled, “That’s a great idea, but it’ll never work!” Perfect! There’s always a skeptic too afraid to try.
The most significant response, however, came from the very first person to respond to my plea. A young woman, probably in her late-twenties, standing only a few people in front of where I was standing, turned directly to me and said with a confident and extremely genuine tone, “Thank you. Finally, someone said it!”
I couldn’t have been more excited. I had impacted the entire mood around that baggage claim. Some laughed, of course one was skeptical, and the first words spoken were of gratitude.
Perhaps I wasn’t the only one who noticed the behaviors at the baggage claim, and was dying to yell that news from the mountaintop. Perhaps it just needed to be said and brought to the surface. Perhaps we just need to be invited to operate differently. Perhaps we all know, deep down, that we are better than our current mode of operation; that we want to bring a different spirit to the baggage claim in our lives.
Let’s change the world.
It starts by turning autopilot off.
Jason Barger is the globally celebrated author of Step Back from the Baggage Claim, ReMember, and the newly released book Thermostat Cultures, as well as a coveted keynote speaker and leadership consultant. More importantly, he’s striving to be an above average father, husband, and friend.
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