I’m glad not to be flying United to PDX today — or wearing suspenders
How mistakes, big and small, can be teachable moments if you lean into them as soon as you can bear it
My Southwest flight from Denver to Portland, Oregon, today has that new-plane smell— we are riding a brand-new aircraft. And no one was dragged from their seat at the gate before we left. So far, so good.
I dozed after takeoff and woke up at 30,000 feet. I’ve had my free honey roasted peanuts and Wheat Thins, with a tonic water and lime. The WiFi connection that I paid $8 for was borked for a half-hour, so began writing this post offline. It’s working fine now. I bet Southwest will give me a refund for the temporary glitch. They’re like that.
In fact, I love Southwest Airlines. Crew members always seem to have a zip in their step. It’s easy to book flights, change flights, get help on the phone, and send the boarding pass to my Apple Watch. You don’t get charged extra for bringing your shoes on the plane. I love the purple, red, and yellow swoops of color on Southwest’s planes. They always look sharp.
As we taxied toward our takeoff in Denver, we passed a big United Airlines hangar. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video of the guy getting dragged off a United flight when it was overbooked and not enough passengers would take another one. I read about it this morning; that was enough. I didn’t need to see the scene itself. Too creepy.
As I watched the United hangar recede from view, I imagined all the things that United employees got right yesterday. There are 86,000 of them worldwide. They put more than 5,000 flights in the air, and they all landed safely. But thanks to the power of social media, one event eclipsed everything else.
I’m not saying what happened wasn’t horrible. But there will be plenty of people saying it was horrible and worse today and for however long it takes for the Next Big Story to move this one aside. Tomorrow it might be a zippy but hapless Southwest employee who makes a big mistake in view of a few iPhones with their flashing red record buttons flashing.
Mistakes are teachable moments. That goes for people or corporations. After the shock, denial, and embarrassment you have the option to lean into the screwup and try to figure out exactly what went wrong.
I made a mistake the other day when I thought red suspenders would be a smart and perhaps stylish way for me to avoid having keep pulling my jeans up all the time. I can never seem to get a belt tight enough. I am apparently butt-challenged.
I ordered a pair of Dickies Men’s Solid Straight Clip suspenders — one size fits all — on Amazon for $11.25. There were bland color options, but I figured I’d go all in with the red ones.
As soon as they arrived, I figured out how to attach the suspenders to my jeans and adjust the length. I enjoyed not having to tug up my jeans once during the past few days. I mainly stayed indoors.
Darlene didn’t think much of the look, but after 32 years of marriage she’s given up on the possibility of turning me into George Clooney. I believe I am the only male in Denver not on a group tour from a foreign country who wears a fanny pack. I carry a lot of tech gear that wouldn’t fit in a wallet, and when I had a leather man-purse shoulder bag I tended to leave it places.
So I got all chipper thinking the suspenders-and-fanny-pack look might be my next level of eccentric/hipster style . At 66, I find myself casting about these days for a self-image upgrade, as I notice more aches and pains and how new ambitions usually end up seeming ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong. Entering the era of the Young Old is wonderful — good health, grandchildren, leisure time, and an endless supply of new gadgets. But it’s a portal, and you can stumble.
The reason I’m flying to Portland today is to attend a planning meeting of the Western States Arts Federation, whose Board I served on a decade ago. It’s a fantastic organization, and I will be seeing old friends who were active at WESTAF when I was.
I strapped on the suspenders for the flight, figuring I would decide at the Hotel Modera whether to actually wear them to the meeting. Darlene’s quizzical look was enough to make me toss the braces onto the bed and cinch up my belt for the trip.
I did a bit of sulking as Darlene and our Yorkie Claire accompanied me to Union Station. By the time I woke up at 30,000 feet I was over it.
Maybe when I’m in my 70s I’ll try suspenders again, but not yet. Thank God no one took an iPhone video of my wearing them.
I hope United and its high-priced crisis management consultants figure out what went wrong yesterday and how 86,000 people can learn from it.
It’s not that tough, once you decide — no matter how old you are — that there is still plenty you want to learn.