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Share the joy!

Posted by Mimi Meredith at Friday, April 1st, 2011 10:13 am

In this world where political correctness rules the day and sensitivity training dictates our interaction, I feel as if I witnessed a miracle this weekend in the Denver airport. Actually, I saw it twice…right there on the B Concourse…courtesy of the same United Airlines employee.

I was headed to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to lead a workshop this weekend, and I was prepared just to hurry through the airport process as usual. We become little autotrons…laptops out, shoes off, boarding pass in hand, liquids…well, let’s just say when I fly without checking baggage, I redefine the containment qualities of a one quart ziploc bag! And I get a little stressed out sometimes with my efforts to be expedient and to hurry up to…whatever…often just to wait in the next line.

And then came Rufus. A man who must be on a personal mission to help us all remember we are human. I saw him in action on Friday and thought he must just be having a great day. When I saw him again this morning, I realized Rufus is there to make days great, regardless.

As I boarded my plane, I asked the flight attendants his name. Every one of them, and the pilot, answered “Rufus!” and their faces all lit up as they said his name. They started remarking about how great he is, and that the airline had tried to fire him last year but the employees and passengers all wrote letters and fought for his job. What a blessing. I am sure Rufus doesn’t fit the profile of acceptable corporate behavior in some ways. I bet he makes some Type A airline execs. a little uneasy. But I can tell you, I wish the world could travel through his gate. I think it’s the secret portal to peace.

As I was able to pull out my laptop, I set about writing a letter to United. I have written letters to airilines in the past, but they were all “suggestions for improvement”. My only suggestion now is that someone, somewhere make a training film…or better yet, a reality series…about Rufus, so we can all learn a few things.

Here’s the letter I wrote. To Rufus, I just say, Thank You. You do indeed plant beautiful seeds of goodness “my brother.”

September 28, 2008

Dear Sir or Madam,

The world is a dreary place these days. We are a people tired of dire predictions, callous treatment and nasty politics. In airports, our spirits often have to be Teflon-coated to repel the onslaught of negative behavior. But today, on your concourse in Denver, at Gate B24, the world was transformed through the character and kindness of one man. Rufus.

This is the second time I have flown through Rufus’ gate. I wish everyone could. As a business consultant and motivational speaker, I try to help businesses understand the art of blending efficiency with positive practices that build up individuals, workplaces and communities. Companies across the nation should just come watch Rufus in action, and they’d know it can be done.

  • Both flights that Rufus managed were boarded as efficiently as I’ve ever seen. (I hear this is his Standard Operating Procedure.) In each case, our plane pulled away from the gate ahead of schedule.
  • His demeanor while handling customers who are stressed is calming, empathetic and professional.
  • His peripheral vision is superb…an inclusive trait all customer service agents should have, as it gives him the ability to acknowledge those waiting on the fringes, while focusing on the customer in front of him.
  • As he walks from the counter to the gate, he continues greeting and engaging—patting a shoulder here, giving a “hey, brother” or a kind comment there.
  • And then the joy really starts to flow as each individual who boards the plane is acknowledged during the boarding process. Perhaps a young woman flying with her mother hears, “So you’re flying with your sister today!” Or he reminds us all we’re boarding the flight for Hawaii; comments on a kind smile; asks about travel plans…it doesn’t matter, really. The thing is that each person matters.
  • In turn, this makes for the smoothest boarding process I’ve ever encountered. The few people who are offended by hugs, handshakes and friendly banter (I’m just assuming they’re out there, as everyone on board my flight was in agreement that it was the best boarding process we’d experienced) would have to agree that the systematic success at Rufus’ gate is this…when people slow down to exchange a kindness, the bottle necks that cause impatience and complaints getting on board are eliminated. The flow is smooth, the process painless and we’re all glad to see the flight attendants wearing the United uniform when we board because the “joy conductor” who just scanned our boarding pass is one of them.

I help people understand that creating better work environments begins with the smallest gestures and the simplest skills. Here is a man who embodies that. In a time when we have forsaken care of one another for political correctness and expediency, Rufus helps us remember to slow down and make space for joy. What a rare and wonderful thing.

I am writing this on board flight #1433. By the time we land in Phoenix, I hope the little seeds of Goodness Rufus planted in these passengers have taken root and will see them through their days. It certainly will see me through mine. I may even see if I can pass it on.

See what amazing things you’ve started at gate B24 today?

Your slogan turns out to be have been right all along. The skies over Denver are friendly indeed.

Sincerely Yours,
Mimi Meredith

P.S. I got on board with these lyrics running through my mind, thanks to Rufus and your team of flight attendants who share his joy…
“Slow down, you move too fast. You’ve got to make the morning last…”

So friends, let’s take a page from Rufus book and start the week offering joy to the people around us!