It’s amazing what one can observe and learn in airports. Airports are, after all, a microcosm of society and it is in the often stressful situations that travel throws up that we see people as they really are. There’s a reason that some of the most epic customer service meltdowns of all time have been in airports – they’re an emotional pressure cooker sometimes.

I’ve flown way too much over the past 15 years and I’ve never lost the simple joy of watching people in airports. At the risk of sounding like a Hugh Grant movie, airports, while sometimes showing the worst of people, also show the best of people. As Hugh himself said:

Often it’s not particularly dignified, or newsworthy – but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends.

Anyway, enough about Hugh, and back to airports. It is little surprise that airline and associated staff often have a wry smile about DYKWIA, the abbreviation for “do you know who I am?” These overworked individuals often bear the brunt of people who have a very inflated sense of their own importance. It’s a bit of a standing joke, but the sense of entitlement that I’ve seen from people simply based on their own or their employers’ air travel spend is legendary.

Sometimes, however, just like Hugh said, good things can be observed in airports. I was reminded of that recently when I was waiting for a flight in the Wellington Koru lounge. That afternoon, Wellington had hosted a big rugby match so the airport and the Koru lounge specifically, were pretty busy.

The CEO of a very well-known large New Zealand company was there with his sons after having a boys weekend away. As is often the case with businesspeople when travelling for pleasure, his sons were able to enjoy the benefits that accrue to frequent fliers – in this case, access to the lounge with all the attendant food and drink on tap.

The family only had a short wait before the flight, but dad took the opportunity to get some food for the lads, and the lads themselves sorted themselves out with a drink. Fairly standard stuff for a lounge visit, one would have thought, and nothing deserving of an opinion piece in the Herald.

But life lessons can be had anywhere, and even small things can be fodder for reflection. After the lounge staff came in to tell the family their flight was boarding, dad did something I only rarely see: he instructed his sons to clean up their plates and cutlery and to sort them out nicely to make less work for the lounge staff.

It may seem like a little thing, but as I wrote to him later on, those of us with access to these privileges have a difficult decision to make: do we let our families enjoy these benefits, albeit at the risk of creating entitled young people unaware of their place in the world, or do we withhold these privileges from them so they don’t fall for the old entitlement syndrome?

In this case, father and sons got to refuel and relax for a few minutes between a busy day at the rugby and a flight back home to the big smoke, but in doing so, dad didn’t miss an opportunity to gently and subtly rolemodel some behaviours that I suspect will set his sons up for a positive journey of servant leadership.

I’d never before met this CEO and, I have to admit, traditionally been pretty dismissive of what I call the “corporate types.” I’d see too many stories of politics, backstabbing and corporate wasting and incorrectly assumed that those who have cut their teeth within the corporate setting would generally display a lower than ideal value set.

Luckily, that brief interchange in the airport changed my view, and I came away reminded that people should be judged on their actions, no matter how seemingly inconsequential they may be.

You see, Hugh was right all along. It may be shown in unusual ways, and may not hold to the Hollywood form of the word but love, really is all around us.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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