Allowing for Unforeseen Circumstances

Posted on May 1, 2014 by Robert Ringer


A thirty-year winning streak of not missing a flight came to an end for me last week at Dulles International Airport.  My flight was scheduled to depart at 8:25 a.m. and, as is customary for me, I planned to arrive at the airport about an hour-and-a-half prior to my flight time.

My early arrival habit makes it possible for me to battle my way through security, hop a shuttle to my concourse, and arrive at the gate with plenty of time to spare.  If all goes well, I can relax and get in some good reading time while waiting to board.

On this particular morning, however, I had been a bit lackadaisical about getting out of the house, and I knew I was cutting it close when I arrived at the airport at 7:30 a.m.  Still, I figured fifty-five minutes should give me plenty of time to make my flight.

Boarding pass in hand, I marched resolutely toward the security area.  But as I approached it, I was confronted with what appeared to be at least a thousand people herded together in the roped-off lanes.

After standing in line for a while, I glanced at my watch and realized that my flight was scheduled to depart in twenty-five minutes.  Given that it was the only flight that could get me to my appointment on time, I immediately employed one of my most sacred yet simple rules:  Ask!

I went up to one of the security people and explained to her that I was going to miss my flight if I remained in line with the rest of the herd.  I asked her if it would be possible for me to take a shortcut and move to the front of the line.  In a language that most definitely was not English, she talked it over with a guy who bore a remarkable resemblance to Mohamed Atta of 9/11 fame.

I was in luck.  He gave the woman a nod of approval and — Presto! — I was led to the front of the line.  Well, almost to the front.  There were still a half-dozen passengers ahead of me, and, unfortunately, one couple was stripping down in slow motion — and laughing hysterically as they explained to their small children why they had to temporarily give up their toys.  Grrr!

Finally, my turn.  I tossed my personal belongings into two filthy plastic containers and pushed them onto the conveyor belt to be scanned.  Surprise!  I had no weapons.  And neither did the ninety-something woman in front of me.  Even her cane passed muster.  What a relief.  And here I thought she might be one of those granny-bombers I’ve heard so much about.

Now I could begin my long walk down the stairs, through the tunnel, back up the stairs, and wait for a shuttle to take me to my concourse.  When it finally arrived, I got on and anxiously watched the signs for my getting-off point.

On arriving, I hustled off the shuttle, breaking into a trot toward my gate.  It was now just two minutes before my flight departure time, but … hey … planes are always late, anyway, right?

As I rushed up to the check-in desk, I asked the agent to point me to where my flight was boarding.  Her reply:  “It’s already left.”  Faking a warm smile, I responded, “But it’s just now 8:25.”  Agent’s gleeful response:  “That’s right.  And 8:25 is when the flight departs (heh, heh, heh).”

(Note:  Not all husbands and wives murder their spouses when they wake up on the wrong side of the bed.  Some have the self-discipline to wait until they get to work, where they can take out their anger on the real enemy — their company’s customers.  Airline personnel seem to have a special affinity for this kind of sadism.)

I thanked Mr. Heh-Heh for his graciousness, walked calmly away, then did what I always do in bad situations:  I asked myself what I did wrong that brought my thirty-year winning streak to an end.  Sure, airport security may be a colossal waste of time and money … it may be outrageously intrusive … it may be absurd … but, nevertheless, it’s a reality of a world where the norm is to put everyday citizens through endless inconveniences.

The lesson I relearned?  When you have to be somewhere at a certain time, take into account the realities of life — not the realities of the perfect world you wish existed.  Things are what they are, and will be what they will be, so what is to be gained by deceiving yourself?

Perhaps you’re a sympathetic soul who is thinking, “But how could a person possibly have known there would be a thousand people trying to get through security all at once on that particular day?”  Answer:  I see it as my job — based on sheer self-interest — to take into account unforeseen circumstances.  Most people aren’t clairvoyant, but everyone can be prudent.

When I use the term unforeseen circumstances, I think everyone pretty much knows what I’m referring to — an accident that backs up traffic for an hour … not being able to find a parking space at the airport … and, yes, being confronted with a thousand people waiting to get through security.

The reality is that unforeseen circumstances are an integral part of everyday life, and the only way you can exert any degree of control over them is to make the necessary allowances in advance.

I intend to profit from the frustrating end to my thirty-year winning streak.  Not only will it be at least another thirty years before I miss a flight, I am now recommitted to always keeping in mind that unforeseen circumstances have a way of jumping in my path at the worst possible times.

If my memory serves me correctly, an old guy by the name of Murphy gave us a stern warning about this kind of stuff many centuries ago.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

14 responses to “Allowing for Unforeseen Circumstances”

  1. Todd says:

    TSA Pre… The best solution to security lines. Even better, Clear AND TSA Pre.
    Thank you for the article.

    • A. P. says:

      TSA Pre-The Stupid A**hole Pre-tending. Yeah, handing your privacy to these rent-a-cop mall thugs with authority of an FBI agent & training of a burger-flipper will solve all problems…NOT!

  2. Silverback says:

    In basic training, courtesy of the American taxpayers, we were taught "if you can't be on time, be early".

    That said, I once stepped out of the shower at 8:05 am and suddenly realized that I had a 8:42, not 9:42, flight. Do not tell me that cute little Italian go-buggy can't move! Walked into the terminal at 8:38! Of course in those days, there was no TSA and the state troopers had no planes for speed enforcement.

    But seriously, Bob. Freshman-level application of statistics indicate that your 30-year streak was a fluke. The choice is yours – spend your precious time allowing for "unforeseen circumstances" which seldom occur, or accept the occasional and statistically expected missed connection.

  3. Murray Suid says:

    Another thoughtful article. Your analysis is really helpful, as was your attitude. (I once saw someone spit on a gate clerk when the clerk wasn't helpful enough!)

    Any chance you could tell us the next chapter in this particular story. Having missed the flight, how did you handle the negative consequences? Below, I'll share what I did in somewhat similar circumstances. But I'd really value your follow-up.


    My solution to missing a flight:

    One time, when fog cancelled my flight from a small central Washington State airport, I faced the possibility of missing my anniversary party. It wasn't my fault–I don't control weather–but I knew my wife would be "unhappy." So I went to the general aviation area and found a private pilot prepping his plane for a trip to my destination. I offered him serious money if he'd give me a lift. He did. Because he was private, he could make the flight unlike a commercial airline. It cost me all the money I had been paid for the job that had taken me there, but the story has become family lore, and it earned me some points with my wife.

  4. Jose J Adame says:

    Thanks for the article, it good reminder to try expect the unexpected at times

  5. serge says:

    I know of a few people I have to wait for because of their tardiness. My solution has always been bring something to do read, answer email, or relax. Robert you did mention you allowed almost enough time for reading and relaxing. Unfortunately, security can be tough at times. For those who are late with me, I give them a stop loss for the next time I meet with them. After exactly 15 minutes I'm gone. As far as the airlines, they have a schedule with air traffic control.

  6. Arnold Handelman says:

    I agree with Mr. Ringer’s basic premises here, that you need to make allowances as part of preparing for contingencies.

    But I’d like to raise a viewpoint on the subject. We normally trade time for money–so many hours per week for a salary; or billable hours for work.
    Even on a fixed price job, it will take a certain amount of time to finish the project.

    A goal is to separate your time from making money. By outsourcing, putting systems into place, and delegating. Time is so precious–it’s the substance of life itself–that it makes sense to trade money for time when we can. So we can cut our own lawn, but we pay a gardener to do it.

    As far as flying goes, one could: take a helicopter to the airport; charter a private flight; buy a jet or a fractional share of one. Mr. Ringer, I believe, owned a Learjet at one point in time. Of course, it was part of the crazy scenario that led to his insolvency then. But you get my point–spend money when you can save time intelligently.

    Could you not FedEx the documents, and Skype, instead of a face to face meeting? Meanwhile, if personal meeting is necessary, does it have to be you. How about a junior executive you’ve hired, making the trip, and then you Skype with the other person.

    I’ve offered a seller a higher price than already agreed upon, if they come to see me to finalize a deal where I’m buying. It means I spent money to save time.

    Money can be spent. It can be replaced. Time cannot be replaced. But money can be substituted for the expenditure of time, and one should do that whenever possible and appropriate in the circumstances.

  7. Trey Gilmore says:

    What I did wrong. Those are a beautiful, brilliant, and rare collection of words. Thank you.

    • Phil says:

      Timeless wisdom that as a society we have somehow unlearned. Well, actually it is pretty obvious how, but anyway it is always a pleasure to read.

  8. Bob, the trick is to become the VIP everyone will wait for.

  9. Mike Pinsker says:

    arrival at a domestic airport for a domestic flight – should arrive 2 hours before departure; Int'l flights should be 3 hours….is what airlines recommend and what I follow. Never missed a plane in my whole life .

  10. R Van Der Voort says:

    I solved the problem of flying for work and other purposes. I got too old and physically incapable. Now my life is much easier.

  11. sukerna says:

    Good write- up which would go better if it was captioned 'what I did right'.
    Instead of looking at a small story line of missing a flight after 30 years of making every good attempt to be careful, the bigger issue is was this 'good enough?' Hence the wonderful article that opens up an introspective train of thought. This is the bigger picture, in my opinion. Learning only happens when one reflects on activities rather than becoming busy 'doing' so many things.
    One reason I personally prefer to e-check in is because this category of passengers line up separately from the masses.
    On a more important issue, I guess the 'non-linear' approach by 'Eastern' thinkers would classify the chaos that you descrihed as 'normal'.
    Would be keen to hear other's vews.

  12. robdelacruz says:

    This Mr. Heh-Heh sounds familiar, like I've met him before. He seems to exist in retail stores, restaurants, government offices, any place with service personnel. As you mentioned, they all seem to want to take out their anger on their real enemies – their customers.