What I Learned from an Airplane Flight That Took Six Hours Longer Than Planned

Last Saturday, I returned back from vacation. What started with a 40-minute delay ended up in a perfect storm, literally. My three-hour flight ended up as a nine-hour journey between three airports, which was a great lesson to practice what I preach in my blog posts.

Lately, I’m writing more and more about personality traits. One of the most critical success skills is to integrate opposite personality traits and to deploy them whenever needed.

There are more than 600 primary personality traits, but researchers focus on the big five in practice.

  • Openness to experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

Studies show that people with high conscientiousness and extraversion, and low agreeableness tend to succeed more in their careers.

I believe that we can increase our success even more by determining the most suitable personality traits for the situation at hand and adopting it.

My Default Personality

In my daily life, I’m more conscientious. When things go according to plan, I’m introverted and relaxed. When reality doesn’t match my expectations, I become tense and vocal.

“Neuroticism” is a bad word choice in my opinion. No one would like to be neurotic. Yet, there are times when we need to be nervous.

You want to be nervous when you face a challenge. Nervousness gets your body into a high energy state. That helps you attack the problem at hand with all of your power.

In my career, it helps me to become nervous when things don’t go according to plan. I become alerted and energized to take the necessary measures. However, that isn’t always the best approach.

When Your Default Personality Doesn’t Work, Shift Gears

Shifting gears by shifting between different personality traits is an analogy by Dennis Merzel from his book Big Mind Big Heart. Let me explain it with my experience last Saturday.

Last Saturday, I returned from vacation, from Turkey back to Belgium. Airport transfers and flights aren’t the best occasions to be conscientious unless you’re driving the car or flying the plane.

I was triggered a lot by the chaotic traffic during the airport transfer. When I get triggered in my daily life, I get nervous and vocal. Neither of that would help me during the airport transfer.

There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t communicate with each driver in the traffic and tell them to be careful. Doing that with the driver of our vehicle wouldn’t change anything, but distract and annoy him.

My usual nervousness and extraversion in unexpected situations wouldn’t add any value at that moment. So, I decided to take deep breaths, calm down, and shut up. I consciously chose and adopted the most suitable personality traits for the situation at hand.

I Was Tested Whether I Learned My Lesson Well

I guess the universe wasn’t sure that I learned my lesson well and wanted to test me even further. My flight was postponed for 40 minutes. Again, something unexpected that would annoy me in normal conditions.

Since I couldn’t do anything about the delay, I chose to let go of the anger and disappointment about it.

On top of everything, the gate didn’t open until ten minutes before the delayed time. My typical reaction would be to get impatient, stand up, and look around. None of that would solve the problem at hand.

I was sitting in front of the gate. If the gate opened, I’d see it. And I expected the gate to open eventually. So, I calmed down, started to listen to an audiobook, and waited patiently.

It Was Just the Beginning

Finally, we got on the plane. When we approached our destination, the captain announced that we couldn’t land at the planned airport because of the storm there.

We landed at another airport, got some extra fuel, and waited for the weather conditions to improve.

In total, we waited for an hour or two on the airplane and spent another hour flying back to our destination. Many passengers became disappointed and started to express their discontent.

I kept letting go of my disappointment and stayed silent. Complaining to the staff wouldn’t change the weather conditions or magically move our airplane back to our destination. It would only make the whole situation worse for them and for me.

When You Can’t Do Anything about the Situation at Hand, Accept It

When we landed in our destination airport, we had to wait for an extra hour for our luggage. That was another problem no amount of neuroticism could solve.

Eventually, I expected our luggage to arrive. Honestly, it wasn’t that important to me if it got lost forever. It was just another hour of listening to an audiobook.

Finally, I got out of the airport six hours later than expected. Now, it was time to change the gears. I had to drive for one and a half hours from the airport to my home.

Now, I had to let go of the easy-going and careless personality and adopt the conscientious, focused, and even tense personality when I drove back home.


The moral of the story is that each polarity of the big five personality traits is useful in a different situation.

We need to know our default personality traits and be able to switch to the opposite polarity when the situation at hand demands it.