On Courtesy

Note: This was migrated from my old Medium blog. I have decided to migrate from Medium to WordPress, and I’ll write about the reasons why soon, stay tuned.

I fly a lot — nearly every weekend — for personal/family reasons. It’s expensive, tiring, and disruptive in many ways.

There are small consolations, though. For example, when you fly enough, you get status with the airlines. On United, that means sitting in Economy Plus at no extra charge. The extra room is nice — I can work on a laptop without feeling like I’m sitting inside the trash compactor from Star Wars:

It’s also nice when your fellow passengers are courteous and well-mannered. I generally keep to myself, so I don’t fault anyone else when they do the same. I also understand that people can be brusque when they are tired or preoccupied. On the other hand, small gestures of civility are appreciated too.

My fellow passenger on tonight’s flight exemplified this good karma approach. When I was boarding and arrived at my aisle, I had to do the “excuse me, but I’m sitting in the middle” interruption. Most people will stand up, move, and leave it at that. However, this fellow stood up, made clear eye contact, and gave a friendly smile and a slight nod. It was like saying, “Sure, welcome to your middle seat! Here, let me get out of your way for a sec. Don’t worry, it’s no bother at all.” but without any words.

Similarly, at the end of the flight, when the plane had arrived at the gate, the seatbelt signed had turned off and everybody had started collecting their things to leave, this fellow immediately stood up and asked if I had any bag in the overhead compartment that I needed. I said that I didn’t, but he asked the lady in the window seat as well. They went back and forth a few times trying to confirm which bag was hers, but ultimately he located it and brought it down for her.

Not only is this a nice gesture to your neighboring passengers, it’s also a strictly more efficient way to deplane. Less time is wasted as each person gets up out of his or her seat, enters the aisle, blocks the entire flow of foot traffic, dislodges a bag, then resumes exiting the aircraft. Clearly, this fellow knows a thing or two about both manners and improving processes.

It doesn’t really matter who this person was. It could have been Joe the accountant or Jane the retired marketer. Courtesy isn’t about who you are, but how you act and treat other people in the moment.

In this case, the person was Stewart Butterfield, of Slack and Flickr fame. The only reason I mention this is as a data point for all the other aspiring entrepreneurs out there. Some use Steve Jobs as justification to be jerks. Please don’t, it’s sophomoric and counterproductive. You will likely be more successful by spreading good karma to everyone you meet.

I originally wrote this in early 2016. 2017 will be remembered for many things, including the opposite lesson — being an assbag to your customers on camera is a great way to, well, look like an assbag instead of a leader:

Originally posted on 22 Jan 2016. Revised 8 Jan 2018.