I Have a Plane to Catch

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Confronting without Confrontation

Posted: 01/30/2010

Thank you to everyone who has emailed me with your stories. You are providing invaluable content for the  book, and a true Voice for Service Industry Workers Everywhere. I am grateful for your time, effort, and thoughtful comments. My resolve to complete and publish the book is strengthened with every email I receive. Please keep ’em coming.

Here are a few examples;

ACI was standing in the security line at the airport with a family of 5 in front of me, and another single passenger in front of them. A woman walked around all of us up to the conveyor belt, and grabbed a plastic tub and started filling it with her stuff. The solo guy, who she immediately cut right in front of, asked her, “What are you doing?” She tersely replied, “I have a plane to catch,” unapologetically discounting the existence of anyone else around her.  (I wondered if she thought the rest of us were there just practicing how to get through security, or just for the fun of hanging around the airport.) The gentleman asserted, “You just cut in front of a whole group of people.” After a tense exchange, including the woman stating that she was “already there'” and in a big rush, the guy reluctantly let her go. Some days you’re just not up for the fight.

As it turns out, everyone waiting in line was on the same flight, and the cutter was sitting right behind me on the plane. As we were getting settled, she was blathering loudly into her cellphone and complaining about how some guy tried to prevent her from going through security. At that point, I had to speak up. I turned to her and said, “No, you were wrong and you cut everyone.” She immediately cowered in shame and lowered her voice. Maybe she’ll think twice next time.


SW- I was standing on line at Flour Bakery on Washington Street in the South End of Boston one Saturday afternoon. If you’ve ever been to the best bakery in town on a Saturday afternoon, you know the scenario, looooong line, but for the most part, people are patient and easy going about it. Most people recognize that this is the very small price you pay for the best pastry and coffee!

Typically, I click into the vibe and just hang on line observing the fortunate people who got there before me enjoying their treats. This particular Saturday though I happened to be late for a meeting and a little more fidgety than usual, repeating my order in my head a hundred times while shifting from left foot to right and barely inching forward. I kept hoping that the 2 adorable girlfriends ahead of me would have fun stories to tell each other so that I would be distracted eavesdropping. I noticed the watch of a patron ahead of me and realized that from the time I glanced at the clock as I jumped out of the car until this moment, twenty minutes of my life had slipped away, and it was right about at that moment that a woman came barging into the bakery and loudly proclaimed to the 2 adorable girls ahead of me, “I’m just grabbing pastry to go, so I’m NOT waiting in this line.”

 {We all have witnessed these people hastily walk into a room sighing, as if they are annoyed that they have to contend with anyone else in the human race. You can feel them thinking, “What are all of these people doing in MY way?”} 

One of the girls politely, but firmly replied, “I’m sorry, we’re all waiting on line for the same reason.” The woman repeated, “No, I’M not waiting in this line. It’s ridiculous. I’m just grabbing pastry to go.” The girls refused to cave in and very calmly and coolly replied, “You’re going to have to go to the end of the line and wait like everyone else.”  

Now instead of repeating my order over and over in my head, I started rehearsing all of the nasty, vile things I would have said to this brash woman had she so rudely tried to verbally push me around. Then I started to be thankful that she had in fact attacked “the wrong people.” Instead of dealing with my wrath and getting the verbal beating she so deserved, this woman’s misfortune struck when she came across the 2 super sweet, polite, kind and well-raised young women who didn’t get flustered for even a second, and put her in her place without missing a beat in their own conversation. Thank goodness there are still good people in the world, and thank goodness they were placed in front of me that day. The woman stormed out without her pastry.

Another reader sent this quote from Tennessee Williams: A high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace.

Cutting in line: It’s not all good. More people need to speak up. We can increase awareness, one person at a time.

7 Responses to “I Have a Plane to Catch”

  1. Hank says:

    One strategy I use is when I see/feel the presence of a likely “cutter” I’ll scope out who’s next in line and, as the person getting served is just about finished, I will point to next in line or group and exclaim – “You’re next, go ahead!”, then move over close to the “obnoxious one,” but in-front of him/her…all the while honoring who is next or before me. Fairly good success.

    A GREAT example, though, was when my dad would take all 10 of us kids skiing in New England and occasionally people would try to slide by us and cut in very long lines. My dad, as a feisty, fired-up Irishman, had no tolerance for cutters…he’d plant his pole firmly across the path of the violator and look ’em in the eye! He was a former fullback at Temple U. and had forearms as big as most people’s thighs. He also was a no BS guy. When he and my uncle were together, they would both do the “pole plant extension” with great vigor and commitment. They always loved the “story” later, too. My uncle would say “Paul, that SOB would never know what hit ’em, if he tried to go through us!” As the eldest of the 10, I have a lot of my dad’s traits and glad he modeled how to deal w/the inconsiderate ones. I miss him.

    Reading these examples will help empower me in the future when someone needs to speak up.

    Dr. Hank

  2. This story reminds me of Earl Nightingale. He used to walk down from his apartment in NY with his friend to get the paper at the corner newsstand. Every morning he would greet the gentleman running the stand with a warm greeting only to get a terse reply. After about Three months his friend said to him “Why are you so nice to him when he is very gruff with you?”

    He answered “Why should I let how he feels affect the way I Feel.”

    The only thing that happened there was there were three people upset instead of one. Think about it. When you have a disagreement with someone you both wind up feeling out of sorts. Nobody wins. Let her have her pastry the world is round and it will come back to her.

  3. The guy that cut the line got his whatever 2 minutes sooner putting him out the door a few minutes quicker which got him in the car just a bit faster catching the green just as it changed from red and through the intersection just in time to get hit by the guy that just cut you off and ran the yellow/red light.
    Relax, wait your turn, be nice. Whatever goes around comes around.

  4. Sue says:

    One of the benefits (drawbacks?) of being a “server” is knowing how it feels on both sides of the counter. As a customer, it irks me to no end when there are numerous people waiting in line, and a cashier opens up a new register and all the people waiting at the END of the line race to be the first at the new register. To me, that’s the same as cutting.

    Because of that experience as a customer, when I’m cashing at my retail job, and open a new register, I always attempt to make eye contact with the customers who have been waiting the longest and call out, “I’ll take whoever was next in line.” At times, I’ve even had to say to other customers (those who have been at the end and begin racing over), “I’m sorry, this customer’s next.”

    Unfortunately, there are certain types who just won’t get the message. It’s not personal, they’re just so self-absorbed that they comprehend nothing but their own personal needs and wants. Feel sorry for them, get them what they want, get them out the door.

  5. nina says:

    How I react depends if I am the only person in line or if I myself am in a hurry.
    I was at the supermarket with my weekly shopping, but was not in very much of a hurry to go home and put it all away when this woman who happened to notice that I was distracted and had not moved three inches closer to the woman in front of me tried to slide in her cart, I looked up and said rather loudly so that the assembled masses could here me, ” Excuse me I was here before you, but I am not in as big a hurry as you seem to be so you may go ahead, but all you had to do was ask!” She thanked me sheepishly and was the recipient of some open stares and mumbles.

    As an employee in a sales position I always say that I am ready for the next person in line and usually people will be honest, but I did have a customer one day who continually cut in front of people “to just ask a question”. I asked her nicely a few times to wait and someone would be with her shortly, but to no avail. Finally I said, “Maam if you want my undivided attention to answer your questions, you are going to have to wait until I am finished with these PATIENT customers who were here before you. She slunk away mumbling.

    It reminds me of that sign I saw in someone’s office, “Let me drop everything and work on YOUR problem”

  6. CD Berkeley says:

    The statistical truth is that bottlenecks are caused when the flow of the queue is interrupted – e.g. cutting. The emotional truth is that it p*sses everyone off, even the nice ones. (They just get over it quicker than the rest of us.) Bottom line: everyone should just follow the rules to keep us all moving forward – literally and figuratively.

    I’m sure we all have a story of how we called out a cutter (and others pretended like they didn’t hear – I hate that too, when you get no support from those you actually helped out too), or even accidentally cut ourselves and (hopefully) quickly apologize to all those in line once the mistake was realized.

    But I’d like to relay a positive story about speaking up:
    I was about to board an overnight flight to Europe. I needed to get out of the middle seat so I was anxious about getting in line at the gate counter. As I stepped right up to the empty counter, waiting for the gate agent to arrive, I noticed a couple with a 2-year old anxiously hovering by the counter too. Quickly people formed behind me, leaving this couple about 3rd in line. In the process, a guy pulled up next to me, putting his stuff on the counter and seemingly cutting about 3 of us in line. I waited. When the gate agent arrived and took station in front of this guy instead of me, I still waited. When the agent asked how she could help him, I was SO VERY pleasantly surprised to watch the guy defer to me, saying that I was first. I then deferred to the couple with the 2 year old, as they were really “in line” (by any definition in my book) before I was. Although a little awckward – the double deferral – it didn’t delay the overall process and we all got what we needed. It’s amazing how one of those experiences can make up for many others of not so pleasant and rewarding type. And it only takes a little awareness and common courtesy. Amazing.

  7. Nick Brown says:

    Its funny I work at a restaurant on the departure side of an airport, where everybody is travelling. Amazingly people come up up frequently and say they have got a plane to catch. In other words can they be treated differently. I always take joy in telling them that everyone here has a plane to catch (I would love to finish the sentence with ‘stupid’!)

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