The 7 pm flight to Philadelphia had just been canceled. I wasn’t heading to Philly, but the man in front of me in the airline check-in line was.  I only know this because I heard him on his cell phone, “The screen says the flight’s just been canceled.”  I looked up at the monitor and saw the only flight that had been canceled was the 7 pm one to Philadelphia.

Because I fly a lot—and have had my share of canceled flights—my instinct was to look at the board and see when the next flight to Philadelphia was. It didn’t matter that I was heading to Dallas—I instinctively looked up at the board to gauge how my fellow traveler’s day might be affected.  Fortunately, there appeared to be a 9: 17 pm flight to Philadelphia that was still showing “On Time.”

The man, we’ll call him “Larry” (because I could clearly read the name tag on his carry-on), said to no one in particular, “I can’t believe how long this line is. By the time I get up there, I bet they’ll have filled up the late flight to Philly with everybody from the 7:00.”  He seemed somewhat irritated, and all of us within earshot kind of just nodded, but no one engaged him in conversation.

About five minutes later—which in “airline check-in line time” is about 45 minutes (even though it really is only five minutes)—he said, again to no one in particular, “This is bison ca ca.” (I’m paraphrasing.)  “I bet they’ve already filled up the 9:00 flight and they’re not even announcing it to anyone.”

Another few minutes go by and he gets back on his cell phone, his voice louder and more agitated. “Yeah, this is bad. I know the 9:00 flight is filled up by now and they’re going to route me all over the place to get to Philly.  They’ll probably route me through Dallas just to get to Philly.  Idiots!”  At this point, I’m thinking, “Oh, please don’t route Larry through Dallas.  I’m sure there’s got to be another way to get to him Philly tonight.”

We’ve made the final turn and are now in the last segment of the line to be checked in. But there’s still at least three or four people in front of Larry and me.  Now Larry says, a little louder, “Hmm.  I bet they’ll make me make two stops to get to Philly.  Two stops!  This was supposed to be a direct flight.  Two stops!  That’s just bison ca ca.”  (Again, paraphrasing.)

I don’t think a full minute goes by when Larry suddenly blurts out, “I bet they’re not even going to get me on a plane tonight. They’re going to make me wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow!  I can’t believe they’re going to make me wait until tomorrow!   That is fundamental bison ca ca!”  (Major, major paraphrasing.)

At which point, the airline agent says, “Next!” and Larry storms up there, throws his ticket on the counter, and screams, “You can take your flight to Philadelphia and forcefully place it up near the seat of your pants!” (Paraphrasing on steroids.)

I love Southwest Airlines. Let me repeat that.  I love Southwest Airlines.  The agent working the counter said, “Well, that would be difficult to do.  Those 737’s are very large.”  She continued.

“So you’re heading to Philadelphia. Let’s take a look at your ticket.  OK, you’re on the 7 pm flight.  You’re in luck.  That flight was canceled, but we just found another aircraft to cover that route.  So we’re moving everyone over to this other flight.  We had to change the flight number—crazy rules—but the new one is taking off at 7:08.”

She shared this with Larry in a pleasant, but slightly louder than normal voice, so that all of us who had been “trapped” with Larry in line could hear. I think we all looked up the monitor in unison.  The canceled flight was still there—but now there was a new flight to Philadelphia.

“And, actually, you’re scheduled to still land at the same time as your original flight. So you’re all set.  Have a great flight.  Next!“  And Larry walked away, avoiding eye contact with everyone.  His body language suggested that he wished he was invisible.

I do not condone Larry’s behavior for one single moment. But I do understand it.  Because we’ve all been there.  I’ve coined a term for it. I call it “Ranticipation.”

Ranticipation is the “ranting that escalates in anticipation of an event that, almost all of the time, does not live up to the imagined negative outcome that is expected.”

How many times have you dreaded something…..perhaps an encounter with a co-worker, or a call to a business you’re having problems with, or a visit to a family member…..and you start building up in your mind how terrible it’s going to be.

The “rant” in “Ranticipation” doesn’t even have to be out loud. The entire “Ranticipation” can take place in your head.  But it seems to get worse when it does transition to the “out loud” stage—especially if others around you agree with your rants, encourage your rants, and add fuel to your rants.  “No, you’re right.  Customer service is going to tell you there’s nothing they can do.  You are totally out of luck on this one.”

But the truth is, if you were to keep a log of all the Ranticipations you go through—and how many of the actual events ultimately were as bad as you imagined—I think you’d find that there were very, very few incidents that warranted the energy, the anger, and the waste of time associated with this process. Almost all of the time, what we imagine is going to be terrible is far worse in our head than what actually occurs.

Here’s what we do in our family. When any one of us starts on a “rant” in anticipation of the perils of some upcoming  event, the rest of us start singing the word “Ranticipation” to the tune of Carly Simon’s Anticipation. Once you realize you’re “ranticipating,” the more likely you are to  realize that whatever you’re imagining is probably far worse than how it’s really going to play out.  And you’re able to stop…..and sing along!

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