I’m not known for my grace of movement. Nonetheless, I was surprised when I managed to take a tumble down an up escalator at an airport.  The escalator lurched, I grabbed the telescoping handle of my wheeled suitcase, it telescoped down and I followed it to a ungraceful position, feet up head down, moving slowly toward the top of the stairs. As falls go, it wasn’t much of an event and my ego suffered more damage than my body.

The first person to realize what had happened was a rather frail appearing gentleman, who immediately extended his hand to help me.  However, I feared that I would that I would pull him down on top of me and both of us would be arrested for lurid conduct in a public place. So, I refused to grasp the extended hand. Fortunately, two airport employees were standing near the top of the escalator and turned it off as soon as the saw me, in an upside down heap on the steps. One of these husky employees rushed forward, helped me to my feet while the other retrieved my luggage.  I assured them I was fine and thanked them for their assistance.  The incident should have ended at that point and I should have been allowed to proceed to my gate and compose myself prior to boarding my plane. Unfortunately, this airport has ‘procedures’ and management has drilled the enforcement of these procedures into the minds of their employees. These employees diligently attempted to follow their training and soon a crowd gathered to watch them do so.

One husky employee insisted: “Ma-am you have to lie down on the floor and wait for medical assistance.”

Me:  “I’m fine.  I just want to go to my gate.”

Husky: “Ma-am, you are an emergency situation and my instructions are to get medical help.”

Me: “I don’t need or want medical help.  I’m fine.”

Husky: “Airport procedure says you have to have medical help.”

Me:  “I don’t want it, I’m fine!”

Husky: “But ma-am, I have to contain you, you are an emergency situation.”

Me:  “No! Just go away!”  At that point, I burst into tears, grabbed the handle of the darned suitcase that caused the incident and fled to the ladies room where I hid in a stall until I could compose myself and proceed to my gate.

After I arrived home, I reflected on the incident and questioned the wisdom of spending management time and money on a ‘procedure’ that ignores the wishes of the customer and sets employees up to fail.  Wouldn’t it be wiser to teach employees to use their judgment and make decisions based on what is happening in the moment?  It seems to me that a better result could be obtained by training employees to focus on the current incident and treat each customer as a person.  Customers are not “situations” – emergency or otherwise – and in most cases they are most qualified to decide what they need.

Betty Freeman Haines, an author and award winning columnist, lives in Mesquite, NV.  Her books/e-books, Reluctant Hero and Grieving Sucks or Does It, can be ordered from amazon.comShare your thoughts and opinions with her at betvern@cascadeaccess.com