What to do if your flight is cancelled — the mind of R. Branson

This is one of my favourite stories of resolve, ingenuity and resourcefulness.

My friends know that for the last year I’ve been counting all the times in others’ lives that I would’ve given up. This is an interesting exercise, because it shows you how outcomes tomorrow are determined by choices today. And it also reveals, over time, the one trait that so many achievers share — bold decision making.

So, if you are curious about how things actually get done, I recommend reading this and asking yourself at every step — what would I have done? I’ve given you helpful cues to pause and reflect. Really, do it. Imagine.

Richard Branson was in the British Virgin Islands, Beef Island in particular. It was 1979 and he had recently rekindled his romance with Joan, his girlfriend (later, wife). They were at the airport, waiting for a flight to Puerto Rico, when the airline staff announced that it was cancelled.

(Now’s the time to ask yourself — what would you have done?)

He was very motivated to get there; this was love on the line after all. He looked around and saw all the other passengers, hundreds of people like you and I, also stranded by this announcement.

So he made a few calls to airline charter companies.

(Again — imagine what would you have done? Keep in mind it is 1979. No internet or mobile phones. No instant messenger. No twitter. If you had to call airline charter companies at your local airport, imagine having to find out which ones were around, find their number from a directory, or by asking around, then finding a payphone and making the effort to call them all. Now imagine all that effort in the British Virgin Islands of the 70s.)

Back to the story then. After making those calls, he agreed to charter a plane for $2,000 to Puerto Rico.

After making those calls, he agreed to charter a plane for $2,000 to Puerto Rico. He walked around the airport and sold seats for $39.

But now, let me tell it in his words, and maybe you will read it “in his voice” as well.

“I divided the price by the number of seats, borrowed a blackboard, and wrote VIRGIN AIRWAYS: $39 SINGLE FLIGHT TO PUERTO RICO. I walked around the airport terminal and soon filled every seat on the charter plane. As we landed at Puerto Rico, a passenger turned to me and said: ‘Virgin Airways isn’t too bad — smarten up the service a little and you could be in business.

When VA was launched in ’84, not one person thought it would survive for more than a year. The bosses of these 13 big American airlines, that we competed with, said we’d fail. Now 21 years later, all 13 of them are out of business — proving the number 13 is unlucky for some.”

If you imagine the scenario in detail, you will appreciate the amount of effort implicit in each sentence of that paragraph. He chartered and then sold the flight’s seats manually, personally, and on his own — exposing himself to ridicule, incredulity and rejection. He also took an important risk — he knew that the theoretical limit to the risk was $2000, and that anyone who agreed to fly with him would reduce that risk, seat by seat. But worst case, no takers, meant he paid $2000 for a flight to Puerto Rico, at a time when flights possible costs about one-fiftieth of that.

What would you have done?

I know that all the times that I’ve suffered through delays, cancellations and re-schedules, I’ve not once tried to find something outside of alternative airlines. More often than not, I’ve just thrown my hands up in the air and resigned myself.

Resignation, compromise and ‘practicality’ are important, but they’ve been bred into us as badges of honour that are ends in themselves. What if Richard Branson had been ‘practical’? Or, looked another way, wasn’t he being enormously practical in getting himself and others to Puerto Rico?

Looking back on decisions in your own life, are you forced to conclude that resignation and “pragmatism” were your first resorts on many occasions, when perhaps they should have been your last resort? Maybe that’s true especially when pursuing your goals? Just sayin’.

Maybe improvisation is a skill that we all need to practice and hone, to garnish our creativity with. Maybe resourceful people are unwilling to accept the status quo, and determined to find a way, somehow. The key word in that sentence is not determined but “find”. So much of what we desire is available if we only expend the effort in finding.

Which then suggests that answers are best found, and discovered. To even look you need to first believe it can be found, and then try your darndest.

How often do you do both? What will you do differently, next time?

First published on https:linkedin.com/in/zubinpratap

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