The end of wonderful break! Sun, sand, and sleep. A little too much food. A little too much drink. Rested. Refreshed. Rejuvenated.
And on the plane. All strapped in. All counted and checked. Ready for departure. Back home on time – maybe even early. Wonderful.
And then the announcement: fog in England, causing delays, we will be held in Spain, allocated a take-off slot an hour later than scheduled, will close the doors and taxi, then wait, might be sooner, probably not.
And the usual resignation kicks in. Deflation. Dismay. Defeat.
The captain and vice-captain stay locked in their terrorist-proof cockpit. The cabin crew look busy, avoid eye contact, talk only to each other, smile only for each other, avoid catching any harmful passenger interaction. The passengers all find things to occupy themselves and brood quietly.
A usual budget airline experience. One that has me quietly composing a letter in my mind to the chief exec of said airline. Cataloguing the experience and questioning why the entire crew find each other so much more interesting than the 100+ people who pay their wages.
In fact (as we were sat at the front of the plane) the “cabin manager” and his colleague (who had a fascination with her impeccably painted nails when faced with the prospect of looking us in the eye as we waited) discussed (amongst many other things) a recent meal the cabin manager had enjoyed with friends. The story focused on customer service (impeccable), and food quality (hit and miss), and related how one of their party carried a list of CEOs of different chains and companies. This friend always “found something to complain about and wouldn’t let it drop” – which was where the contact list of CEOs came in. It was amazing (apparently) what this friend received in money or vouchers! Simply amazing! Because another time this friend had been shopping (a clothing chain known for its low prices and iffy quality), and had spent just under £50.00 (“well – for that store – that is a LOT of money!” – to knowing nods and agreement from the colleague-at-the-front). This friend had been caught in the rain and the bag of purchases (a paper carrier bag) had become wet and had split. Well – this friend had complained and “had taken pictures and everything” (more knowing nods and noises) because the clothes purchased had fallen on the floor and were dirty and everything. And the friend had complained to the relevant CEO and had received compensation (“amazing” – more nods and noises).
Later as we landed. The two were once again strapped-in and facing us a knees-breadth apart. The cabin manger was giving observation feedback (a company initiative/requirement and all documented as required) on colleague-at-the-front. Colleague-at-the-front had done very well in all categories. Even the category of interacting with customers (what I call “good customer service”) received glowing approval: “you took the time to explain the difference between cold sandwiches and hot snacks” (as they wheeled the cart of refreshments-for-sale down the aisle). No mention of impeccable nail-staring. No awareness of one resigned-customer-not-interested-at-all thinking that carrying a list of CEOs might be worthwhile considering after all! No awareness of “customer service” being anything other than a company process and tick-box. One which got ticked with a gold star time after time (I suspect). Because the cabin manager and his own “customer service” standard?
On the flight we had bought a “special offer meal” from the refreshment cart. It included a free confection. Colleague-at-the-front dealt with the money. Cabin manager dealt with the cart stuff. As they finished I was handed the free sweets. Then noticed my wife had been handed them already by colleague-at-the-front. So I caught cabin manager’s eye as they focused on the row behind us (not as easy to attract their attention as it might seem) and passed them back with an explanation. Cabin manager accepted them with “it’s a good job you are honest” – and I wondered – with a quiet internal grimace – a “good job” for whom exactly? Cabin manager seemed not to need “observation feedback” on every flight. He was too busy observing and writing and ticking the required boxes on others with lots of gold stars. And colleague-at-the-front and her impeccable nails saw no reason to even think there might be a different way.
Just another flight. Sigh … And the deep sigh?
Same thing happened on the flight out from England five days earlier. Storms in Spain delayed our take-off from England.
Captain Henrik told us. He explained that there is a Europe-wide flight management computer. As they prepare for take-off, they enter the details into the plane’s internal computers: the expected take-off time, the route and height, the duration, and expected landing time. This is then transmitted to the Europe-wide computer system. That super-computer gathers data from every plane flying around Europe. And it flashes back to each plane permission to fly – or an instruction to hold (and for how long). It means that European destination airports do not have planes stacked and circling. Less fuel is used, so it is a greener use of aviation fuel, and much more managed than in “the old days”, even if it means a holding delay like the one we were experiencing, and that this system had been in operation for maybe twenty years or so.
Captain Henrik told us all this from the cabin-crew’s intercom/telephone. At the front of the plane. Looking us all in the eye. There amongst us. Connecting. Then – with the cockpit door open – he called to his co-pilot (“Tom – we call him Tomtom – he is great navigator!” to much chuckling) to press the “Ready Button” – which would tell the super-computer that our plane was locked and loaded and ready to go – just in case a plane elsewhere was not – and so we might just get an earlier departure.
Then he invited all of us to come and have a look at the cockpit (“Tom knows what all the buttons do”), with the proviso that should an earlier take-off time come back – he would have to get going (and we would all have to get back to our seats strap in equally quickly). And then he chatted with a long queue of passengers all keen to have a look at the holy grail “un-terrorist-proofed” and open to all – and all able to take selfies of themselves in the captain’s seat. During which time the cabin crew were also joked-with and drawn into the banter. And during which time the cabin crew poured and passed-out cups of water for anyone who wanted. That hour passed really quickly. And after 45 minutes or so, Captain Henrik bade us goodbye and locked the cockpit so he and Tom-Tom could press the right buttons and get us all to Spain and the (unwelcome) thunderstorms as quickly as possible.
We were as one. One plane-load of real people. Important people. All of us. And Captain Henrik (who had worked for four airlines in his career, still worried about getting “it right” with his passengers as “there is always the odd one who will always take something the wrong way and complain to head office”, and who had accepted that making 130 people happy at the risk of being told by head office that passenger 131 was not happy (so the CEO was not happy) – well that was fine by him) he was happy to tell me this – as I asked if I could take a picture of him – and explained I was not that interested in seeing the cockpit and a load of buttons – because seeing a plane load of him and happy passengers was much more fun.
There and then on the plane I whizzed that picture with my thoughts and thanks to the airline’s Facebook page. After we had completed the flight and landed in Spain, I switched-on my phone as usual and had a message of thanks from the airline along with the assurance they would pass it on to Captain Henrik directly.
Same company. Two flights.
Same standard. Same procedures. Two very different applications.
Same me. Same wife. I am affected. She is not. She thinks I am nuts. I think I am not.
Let’s Talk About God And Church … the corporate face of God. The one “the passengers” experience in the media, the advertising hoardings, the social media, the news, the columnists, the debate chatterers, the disaffected, the disinterested, the ones who are affected – and the ones who are not.
How do the “passengers” perceive this corporate “crew” of God? What procedures and tick-boxes do they see? What conversations and tittle-tattle do they overhear … when we think they are not listening … are not interested … have no desire to engage (how I loathe that word and concept!) … seem not to want to connect … would not darken the office/church … not write a letter of complaint (nor compliment) … are affected … or not affected (apparently) … ?
But who do notice the difference a Captain Henrik makes – and then so notice how wide the gap really is between him and “the rest of us” who pat ourselves on the back as we gold-star the tick-boxes (whilst muttering what a crap institution we work for – how the hours are horrendous – the pay is rubbish – the boss is so demanding – and the management structure is so out of touch!) – and do all of that a knees-breadth away from a disinterested world (who do not listen apparently), whilst we avoid eye-contact just so we can never be infected with their sin.
Are we not just looking at our impeccably polished nails/souls – and never ever “get it”? Never “get” that the disinterested world is actually very interested – and may be affected or not – but will always be listening and hoping.
Hoping that Captain Henrik is the norm – because isn’t that how God is? And wondering why we all work so hard for such rubbish pay and a terrible institution – isn’t that “our choice” – the same one we urge them to make – all the time?
Isn’t that what “we” choose to do? Isn’t that why we all must gather together each week to say “thank you” … to “worship and praise” … to affirm how unworthy we really are? To pat each other on the back and tick another box … to give the corporate God what the corporate God requires? The absolute minimum. Without any sincerity. Without any love. Other than for giggling with each other … making eye-contact with each other … safe behind our “sinnerist-proof” doors.
My wife may read this and call me nuts. She may be affected by me – reading too much into things. Dwelling on stuff I should let pass by. I love her and she is right. For herself.
I am affected. And I see and hear too much to think I am totally unique.
So I am for Captain Henrik. I am for God Soft Hands Jesus. I am for real. Real Relationship. With a real. Real God Soft Hands Jesus. One that (apparently) disinterested passengers can see, feel, touch and taste. A real God. A real Lord. A real Love. A lasting Love. A relationship like no other. A relationship we all dream about. That we are all affected by.
Because every one of us is affected in some way. Even if we think we are not. We all know sincerity. Because we were all born with everything we will ever be. Already. Already born with a need to connect. With each other. With God. With eternity.
So long as it is real (because an inbuilt-counterfeit-detector is also part of the “all we will ever be already” package).
Isn’t that all God ever asks?
That we are real? Every day.
Even when no one is listening (apparently).