Are we there yet?

A few years ago, an unexpected letter informed me that I’d reached “Million Miler” status on my most-flown airline. This status earned me lifetime travel benefits with the carrier. It also earned me sanity-saving insights into the art of air travel.

I’d flown those million miles with untold numbers of fellow travelers—people of every age, background, and ability—and it was an education. Let me clue you in on one hard-won lesson:

The quality of the journey is shaped well before the journey itself.

Travel—the progression from point A to point B—is just like any transformation: It’s a change process to be managed. And the best-prepared travelers are often the most satisfied.

For example, I’ve shared an aircraft cabin with thousands of toddlers. (Not all at once, thankfully!) It doesn’t take long for kids to realize that air travel is uncomfortable. It’s cramped. It’s loud. And it constrains these human perpetual-motion machines to sit in one spot for who knows how long. No matter how much the kids love their grandma or want to meet Mickey, the process of getting there tests their limits.

I’ve seen traveling parents adopt a variety of change management approaches, with varying degrees of success:

  • Some don’t give it much thought or planning. They wing it and hope for the best.
  • Others rely on the child’s self-discipline, as well as their own ability to impose their will on the child. “Behave, because I said so!”
  • The most effective change-managing parents don’t rely on chance or dominance. They choreograph the experience—both before and during the flight—to build success into the process.

Think of your own transformation initiative as a journey.

  • Map the course. How can you help travelers envision the route and set expectations in advance, so they can prepare and pace themselves?
  • Get a good night’s rest. What can you do before the flight to put your travelers in the best physical and mental state for the trip?
  • Idle hands make fretful minds.[1] What snacks, activities, and other necessities can you pack to keep travelers comfortable, productive, and in good spirits throughout the transition?
  • Window or aisle? What choices and control can you afford travelers along the way to prevent them feeling powerless or acting out in frustration?
  • Eyes forward. How can you remind travelers of the destination ahead, keeping them focused on the positive and assured that the long flight is worth it?

Change—like travel—isn’t instant. You can’t avoid the trek between where you are and where you want to be; but you can make it a nicer ride.

[1] Shelley Shepard Gray, American author