A word of advice: Be polite for a better outcome

When viewed from a comfortably detached perspective, the ironies of life can be entertaining. Let’s face it, we all get a lot of good stories from the oddities that happen all around us. Then again, those same ironies can be an infuriating series of experiences if seen from a viewpoint that includes personal involvement.

Consider, for example, the modern convenience of almost instantaneous communications that are available to so many of us all day, all night, from almost anywhere. The technology that makes our nearly permanently connected lifestyles possible is amazing. Unfortunately we don’t always keep in mind that not everyone is connected quite as completely as we might assume.

Let me give you an example. Suppose there is an individual, who we can refer to as Andy, because it’s easy to remember and it starts with an “A.” And let’s suppose that Andy shoots off a quick email to his airport manager asking for a breakdown of his annual hangar rent payments so he can write them off against his taxes. He’s in a rush, so his email is brief: “Please provide me with a breakdown of my hangar payments for 2011.”

That’s it. The whole message is only 12 words long. Well, not really. Technically it’s 11 words long, and includes a number. Either way I think it’s safe to assume that we can all agree Andy’s message is short, sweet, and wastes no time with pleasantries.

The answer from the airport manager, who we will call, Mike, because it sounds good, reads like this: “Thank you for your request. You neglected to sign your email, so I am sorry to say I do not know who you are. However, I would be happy to get that information to you, if you can clarify a few points for me. If you can tell me your name and identify your hangar or hangars, I will get the information you requested back to you ASAP.”

You’ll notice that Mike’s email is longer than Andy’s was. It’s just as focused on the central issue however. Mike is more than willing to share the information Andy wants – provided Andy can share a few details that are pertinent to the request.

You and I may have no problem seeing that, but Andy doesn’t take the message well. He feels slighted, and he lets Mike know it.

“After more than a decade as a customer in good standing I am offended by your laziness and your laissez-faire attitude toward fulfilling a simple request. I would have thought you could just look up my records using my email address if you wanted to. The clock is ticking on the deadline to file taxes. I will expect you to forward the breakdown I requested by end of business today, without any further foot dragging.”

Andy has made his point perfectly clear. And he’s left no doubt that he’s pretty angry, too. Yet, that’s not the whole story. Andy has made an assumption that Mike is at his desk, in the office, surrounded by staff, and is merely disinterested in the simple task of cross-matching a random email address to his list of tenant’s email addresses. With the owner of the email address identified, Mike could easily look up how many hangars Andy rents, access the payment record, and send a PDF to the email address Andy made the request from.

Easy as pie, right? Well, no. This request isn’t easy at all, because Andy has made an assumption that isn’t supported by any evidence available to him.

In reality Mike is on a bus from an airport several states away, riding into the convention center downtown, where he will represent his airport to a variety of potential new tenants he hopes to interest sufficiently to get them seriously talking about moving their operation to the airport he manages. He answered Andy’s first email from a handheld device, which he is struggling to maintain a grip on while he sways in the aisle. He’s trying to keep a luggage strap securely looped over his shoulder, while he holds onto a chrome bar overhead that is keeping him from falling on his face every time the bus turns, brakes, or accelerates.

Suddenly the task of looking up a few hangar rental bills doesn’t seem quite so simple, does it?

We make assumptions all the time. Andy made an assumption that he could get what he wants, when he wants it, because there is a full blown staff waiting to make him happy no matter when or how he asks for help. From his perspective he’s a valued customer who deserves Grade A service 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And that might be true. In fact, that might be Mike’s goal, to provide exemplary service to all the customers on his field, whether they’re local or transients, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s at least possible that Andy would have received that level of service too. If he had called the airport manager’s office and spoken to Mike’s assistant he could have had his breakdown that same day, surely. Or if he had answered Mike’s question as politely as it was asked of him, he might have found Mike forwarded the email to his assistant and asked to get the information out to Andy ASAP, just like he wanted.

Instead, Andy pitched a fit, threw his weight around, and made it clear that he’d waited until the last moment to gather information he knew he needed, and he’s comfortable making that oversight somebody else’s problem rather than taking responsibility for it himself. That’s too bad, really. Because Mike’s about to enter a tunnel where he’ll lose service. And once he puts his handheld device away, it will be out of mind. By the time he gets to the venue, gets checked in, stops by the hotel and drops off his luggage, and gets back to the reception at the event, it could be hours before he gets to send the message to his assistant asking that Andy’s records be sent along to him. Having those records by the end of the business day is pretty much out of the question at this point.

If only Andy hadn’t made an assumption and vented about it. Something none of us would ever do, I’m sure. Only Andy would do something so foolish, so shortsighted, so rude. Yeah, that’s ironic isn’t it? Fortunately for the rest of us there’s only one short-tempered ill-mannered guy in the world who lashed out when he should have been singing mea culpa. Too bad for Andy. At least we’re in the clear though, right?

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.




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  1. Mcdonald1313 says

    There’s at least one of those we all must deal with,and hopefully not on a daily bases. I’m privileged to fly right seat in a wonderful airplane with a wonderful captain, although the owner, because of his inherent great wealth for some reason treats his people with blatant disrespect.
    He is one of the few, I’m happy to say,  that belongs to this rare fraternity of die hard, totally committed, A – – H – – – ‘s.
    These people will never change, ever…… we’ll just have to learn to co- exist with them… They really only matter in their own minds. Such a shame !!

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