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In case of emergency: communicate and show empathy.

Traveling on an airplane can be stressful. Even if you aren’t afraid of heights or flying, per se, there’s still a lot to deal with.

One of the worst things is when your flight is delayed. As someone who travels pretty regularly, delays are not my favorite. That’s because you usually don’t know what’s happening, and a delayed flight can really mess up your plans and turn what should otherwise be an enjoyable trip into a stressful mess.

Sometimes, however, you come across someone who makes things just a little less stressful. That’s what happened on a Delta flight earlier this week when a young passenger got upset when the flight they were on was delayed due to mechanical issues.

Delta Flight 2270 had a maintenance issue on Tuesday. As passengers waited on board, one of them was a young boy who became upset and scared wondering what was wrong with the plane. I first came across the story when a Twitter/X user, @Lyons_John_E, posted about his experience on the flight:

I don’t know the young boy or the pilot. For that matter, I don’t know John Lyons, who shared the story. I did reach out to Lyons, who told me more about the experience.

“The boy was getting nervous thinking that he was in danger because of the issue with the plane and a possible mechanical problem,” Lyons said. “The mom did her best to calm him down, but he was getting upset. It was at that point the grandmother suggested they go up and see the pilot. He was out of the cockpit at this point walking down the aisles and talking to people.”

According to Lyons, the co-pilot spoke with the boy and showed him the cockpit. That may not seem like much, but sometimes it doesn’t take a miracle to make someone’s bad day a little less miserable. In this case, it apparently helped alleviate his fear and anxiety and the boy returned to his seat.

Really, there are two leadership lessons here. The first is that when something goes wrong, the most effective way to lead is usually to get out of the cockpit and talk to people. There was nothing the pilot could do to solve the problem sitting in the cockpit. It might have been easier, but it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.

“After the first hour or so, maybe a little longer, we were all stuck on the plane waiting and the pilot came out and talked to the passengers in groups,” Lyons told Inc. “He went maybe every 10 rows or so and explained what he knew, what he thought was happening, and what to expect.”

I’m sure there were plenty of things the pilot would rather be doing than walking through a plane explaining to passengers that he really doesn’t have a lot of information about what is going on with the airplane. Obviously, having your flight delayed is not a great experience. The way the pilot treated the passengers, the young boy included, went a long way to making it a little less miserable.

The second lesson is that when you see someone having a bad experience and you have the ability to help, you should. I don’t imagine sitting on a plane with a mechanical issue is enjoyable for a pilot either. You become a pilot because you want to fly planes, not sit at a gate waiting for maintenance to fix something. Instead of getting frustrated or angry, this pilot noticed that he wasn’t the only person who was having a bad experience.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the airline told Inc. that “Delta people are not only trained to safely and efficiently fly our customers, but almost as important, they are empowered to engage on a human level and make customer connections that extend beyond their final destinations.”

That’s exactly what happened here. Alex the co-pilot realized he had the ability to do something to make the experience better for everyone on board. Even though he couldn’t fix the problem, Alex was able to make the experience better by his response.

Delta confirmed to Inc. the flight was eventually canceled due to its mechanical issue — the only flight the airline canceled that day. The passengers on board were eventually rebooked. Even then, Lyons says Alex went out of his way to help.

“The pilot mingled with groups of folks in the terminal,” said Lyons. “He took questions, guided people to the right line, and gave very real expectations about what to expect.”

No one on that flight had the experience they hoped for. Still, what they’ll probably remember most is that Alex made it better by taking the time to relate to them not just as passengers, but as people. Sure, the flight ended up being canceled, but passengers won’t forget the way they were treated by the pilot on flight 2270.

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