for release June 14, 2002
by Melodie Davis
You'd rather not have to see her at all, let alone stand in a line to do so. No one wants to have to go to the Lost Baggage Lady at the end of a long flight.
My nomination for "Patience Personified" goes to a real woman, Kiyomi Griffin, at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. She deserves all the money they pay her and more.
Anyone who takes this job knows they are going to have to deal with angry, irate, tired, belligerent customers all day long. When I first saw Ms. Griffin, I worried that she wouldn't be able to understand us very well, because she looked Asian. Since we were returning from a trip abroad, when we had been struggling with English the whole time, the last thing we wanted to deal with in making a lost luggage claim was someone who didn't have a command of the language.
But the airport did their hiring well, and she not only had an excellent command of the language (though softly accented), but she had something more important: a command of her job. She had manners, poise, and genuine sympathy for the plight of perturbed passengers. She was able to disarm even our frustration and disappointment.
The man in front of us had just flown to the U.S. from Oslo, Norway to attend a training conference. He, and we, had agreed to take a later flight in exchange for travel/cash vouchers. So all of our luggage arrived on an earlier flight but it was not in the baggage area.
After traveling more than 24 hours, feeling tired, frumpy and smelly after sitting through the rather warm flight, he had no luggage and was faced with meeting new business acquaintances while looking disheveled. He pleaded somewhat urgently, "What am I supposed to do? I have no clothes, and I have to be working. I have meetings."
Ms. Griffin looked at him, listened thoroughly, smiled sympathetically, but said, "I can only get you a pack of toiletries. I'm sorry, there is no way we can have clothes in the sizes and types for all passengers."
We were better off because although our lost luggage contained valued souvenirs, we were driving to our home and had plenty of other clothes once we got home.
We wondered if the luggage wasn't at that moment sitting somewhere in customs, since we hadn't been there to claim it. Couldn't she call customs? She frowned apologetically and confided that a man had argued with her for about four hours earlier in the day over the same issue, and she had tried unsuccessfully to get the luggage out of customs (without it going through routine channels). I tried to imagine enduring four hours of off-and-on wrangling, without snapping.
To be frank, her treatment of customers was perhaps so attention-getting because it is so different than the surly snapping that passes for customer service in some places, where you feel dopey for even asking a question.
What does it take to have patience in such a setting, and what can I learn from her? I'm guessing, but I'm sure she has some years of experience with the job or she wouldn't have had such a command of herself and her customers. There was paperwork to fill out, details to make sure were correct. I felt more confident after dealing with her: that our luggage would probably eventually get to us because she was so thorough, professional, and she seemed to be on top of the situation. So experience is helpful in dealing with tense circumstances. She seemed to know how to "read" my husband and me: our exhaustion, stress and even our different ways of dealing with the problem. She was 30-40 years of age, so she also had life experience and maturity.
I had to think of other settings where a great deal of patience is needed: driving; dealing with other business/customer interactions; in sports. In all of these situations, practicing the old advice, "take a deep breath and count to ten" is probably good guidance. On a scale of one to ten, what is the relative importance of this matter? Is it a matter of life and death, or something I'll forget about next month or year? If the latter, it probably isn't worth lathering myself into a heart attack.
Also, always try to put yourself in the other person's cubicle. How would it look from where he or she is sitting?
Oh, and by the way, the airline delivered all four pieces of our lost luggage to our door by taxi 120 miles out in the Virginia countryside by 11:30 p.m. the next night. It was an impressive piece of service for which we were very grateful.
Who would you nominate as a winner of the "Patience Personified" award? Send your story to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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