Exploring life's passions

How we react under stress

airport delayBoarding for the flight to Lisbon had already started when they announced a delay. An indefinite delay. Not good. I only had one hour in Lisbon to make my connecting flight to Cabo Verde, so any delay would make it difficult for me to make it. Two days earlier, Leonie’s flight had been delayed by half an hour and, although she got the connection and arrived OK, her luggage didn’t. There’s only one flight a day to Cabo Verde, so if I missed this connection, I’d have to wait another full day before I could get there.

But there wasn’t a lot I could do about it. We could see the engineers working on the plan, so most people sat calmly waiting for more news. But not everyone.

When the ground crew announced the delay, they had no other information at this point. They’d let us know as soon as they knew. That wasn’t good enough for one suited, grey-haired guy. He went straight to the desk and asked for more information. They repeated the same message to him, in Dutch since he’d asked them in fluent Dutch. But how long? he asked. They had to know how long, he told them. But they didn’t know. But they must, he said, and on he went until he finally stamped away.

While he stood there huffing and shuffling and complaining to other passengers, a family sauntered up from the shops and asked when they would be boarding. This was about ten minutes after the flight should’ve left. The ground staff said they didn’t yet know. That was fine with the family, and they went back to the shops (I should say that the delay hadn’t made it to the screens yet, so they couldn’t have known).

After about an hour, we could board, but a lot of people had connections and weren’t sure if they’d make them or not. The ground crew told us all to go to Lisbon and we’d get more details there.

I could only hope the next would be delayed too. Very likely, knowing TAP (they have one of the worst delay records in Europe).

We got to Lisbon and it was one of those flights where everybody clapped when the plane landed safely. But there was also a rattle of clicks as seat belts were undone by those desperate to get out.

A couple of guys tried to push their way through the crowded aisle, saying they only had two hours to catch their next flight. Other people piped up that they only had one hour. Others only had 30 minutes, and it became a kind of Top Trumps with a lot of boarding card waving and pointing to flight times.

I trumped them all, and I was near the front anyway so I got out fairly sharp. The Cabo Verde flight should’ve left 20 minutes before, but if it was delayed, I might just make it.

As I stepped off the plane, there was a ground crew guy waiting for me (and everybody else).

‘Can I still make it?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘but tomorrow. Here is a voucher…’ and blah blah. It didn’t matter much any more. I had to send a text to Leonie to let her know and to make sure she could tell the taxi driver so he wouldn’t have to go to the airport.

I went to the baggage handling office in Lisbon to find out if there was any chance of getting my bag. It was busy, and I had to take a number and wait outside. The office was right at the belt where the luggage would come anyway and I milled about there just in case. Nothing.

I went back to the office, and my number still wasn’t on the screen. I recognised another couple from the flight, waiting too. The guy was antsy, constantly checking the screen for his number. This guy looked like he was buzzing on impatience, but he finally decided he’d probably have time to go to the toilet first, and off he went.

Just then, my number came up. I went in, explained the situation and asked if I could get my bag. As the woman looked up her computer, the antsy guy came storming in to the office, right up to me and accused me of skipping the queue. It doesn’t matter what I said back to him, but he finally mumbled his way back out.

I didn’t get my bag because it was going to take too long to find it, and I had a change of clothes anyway, especially after Leonie had to wait for her luggage.

I nodded a friendly hello, to the antsy guy as I left and I saw, behind him a young couple from the flight still waiting at the baggage claim, watching the empty belt go round, and hoping that their bag would appear at any minute. They were the complete opposite of the antsy guy. They were just waiting there to see if something happened.

I let them know what they told me about my bag and went for my taxi.

Hotel Anonymous, Anytown

Hotel Anonymous, Anytown

At the hotel, the receptionist was decent enough to send me straight to the restaurant before it closed. He’d check me in later, he said.

When I went back to him, he was explaining to two young guys that the restaurant was closed, and they could get something to eat at the bar upstairs. That was fine, but the woman who arrived after them didn’t even let the receptionist explain about the bar. She cut him off after ‘restaurant is closed’ and started demanding food, hardly giving the guy a chance to mention the bar.

Later, when I was in the bar (you know, because that was where they had the best internet connection), I saw her. She’d just finished her club sandwich and chips, and when the barman came to clear the plates away, she just had to tell him how bad the food was. She’d eaten it because she was hungry, but it was actually very bad. The bread was dry, she said. The barman tried to explain about the type of bread (Portugal isn’t known for its soft sandwich bread like you get in Holland). The woman said she understood, but it was still terrible. And she continued moaning to her partner after the barman left.

And that was me. A night and a day in Lisbon, in an anonymous hotel far from the centre and anything else of interest. I worked a bit and I thought about these other passengers and their very different reactions: from those who were angry, impatient, nervous to those who stayed calm, who were happy to let it all happen to them, and those who didn’t even seem to notice any problem.

And me? Where did I fit into that spectrum?

I was disappointed, but I stayed fairly calm. But there were moments when I realized I could have become any one of those people, that I could have had any and even all of these reactions. And that I have reacted like them in the past.

This time I tried to be more mindful of how I was feeling and how my mind was telling me to react. That helped me to see recognize the difference in all those people around me too. I could see myself in them.

And I realized that none of them were bad, angry, nasty, lazy, passive or aggressive people. They were just people, and that storm or calmness or circumstances had led them to act in a particular way. So I sat back and watched it all, and took notes for my blog post.

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