Eat Good Food. Be Kind. Tell the Truth.

Waiting for Brilliance
by Jack Beuttell -- September 18th, 2012

On Friday morning I drove to the airport, bound for the Mississippi backcountry to go fishing with some close friends.  This would be my first time flying in a couple of months, so it was exciting; RDU was fresh and gleaming, check-in was smooth, and the lines were considerably shorter than the lunch lines at Duke.  It was by all means the start to a great day.

One of my favorite things about traveling by air is that it transports you, in obvious physical ways, but also in surprising psychological ways, to places your normal routine doesn’t take you.  You see new things, hear unfamiliar sounds, and often find yourself waiting, just to wait some more.  And though the wait can be annoying at times, especially when you’re socialized in school to maximize every minute, there can be some upside to the occasional pause.  Like time for introspection, analyzing easily missed details and—one of my favorites—people watching.

Here are two specific things I observed today, and one idea that emerged as a result.  I don’t know if it’s a good or bad idea, so leave a post and let me know what you think.

Observation 1:  You know that guy in the buttoned down shirt that stands between gates and tries to catch your attention as you pass by.  Yeah, he makes you think he works for United or Delta, asks you where you’re flying or where you’re coming from, what your flight number is, etc.  Turns out, he doesn’t work for the airline, and it’s none of his business what your flight details are.  He works for Mastercard or Visa and wants you to sign up for a new credit card.  The problem: How many times have you naively been caught off guard and indulged him, only to wish you could get back the 60 seconds of your life lost to his sneaky sales pitch?

“Where are you flying to today, Sir?”

Observation 2: You know those golf carts that carry passengers from one terminal to the other?  They usually ferry those who are unable to walk easily, but how many times have you wished that you could hitch a ride?  Travelers are inherently lazy—call it rushed if you prefer—but this is why we have escalators and moving walkways.  The golf carts are a fantastic service that more of us would use if it were socially acceptable, or if we could convince the driver we had some recent injury that merited his sympathy.  The problem: too many people and too few golf carts.

How he sells credit cards without running people over is another important question.

Solution: Mash up Visa guy with golf cart guy and market the service as a complimentary Visa Shuttle that serves a broader population.  Now the salesman drives a branded golf cart and has a captive audience, which feels some small obligation to listen to his pitch.  Visa’s search costs are reduced because travelers self-select for the service, and they don’t have to worry about avoiding Visa guy as they walk to their gates.  Once an enemy, now a friend.

Naturally, there are some issues with this idea.  What happens when a traveler wants to fill out the paperwork, but the driver has to transport more passengers?  What if a passenger is interested, but is already at his gate and doesn’t need a ride anywhere?

Brilliant?  More like half-baked, I know, but the point is, fresh eyes can bring a new perspective to old problems, just as a new context can help you break out of psychological ruts.  In both cases, waiting can be the beginning of a breakthrough.  So the next time you’re irritated by a long wait, turn it into an opportunity to discover something new.

1 Comment

  1. Sue
    Sep 21, 2012

    Hahaaaa. As a very frequent flyer, I enjoyed your perspective. I personally feel as if the run through airports is the only exercise I tend to get on the days I’m flying from place to place, so I actually enjoy the long hauls through airports, sans benefit of cart. There are always fascinating things to see in airports, though, aren’t there? Great sketching material: paintings just waiting to happen. That’s why I bring my paints along for the ride.

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