One of my favorite bloggers recently wrote a post questioning why cab drivers ask you what time your flight is when they’re driving you to the airport. His point was: Why ask the question when the answer won’t affect how fast you can get me there? It’s only adding unproductive tension.
I usually think this blogger is right on, but he missed something here. What if we assume the cab driver does have a reason for asking the question? What could that be?
Maybe the driver has learned from long experience to mitigate someone’s expectations when the stakes are high (like catching a plane). If a tourist grabs a cab in Times Square at 5pm and thinks he’s going to make it for a 5:30 flight out of JFK, maybe the driver wants to let him know as soon as possible that that’s not happening.
Or maybe the driver has been on there receiving end of someone figuring out too late that they’re going to the wrong airport, and asking them what time and what terminal solves this problem earlier.
Or maybe the driver knows that this question leads to better tips.
Or maybe the driver is looking to reassure the passenger that there’s time to get there—that he’s a professional and the passenger is in good hands.
“What time is your flight?” has always sounded to me like an exercise in empathy—we’re on the same team here, and I’ll get you where you need to go.
And finally, I think that asking when the flight is leaving can serve the purpose of alleviating tension rather than creating it. Think about it: the passenger has entered the driver’s space. The driver spends all day trying to quickly read and adequately serve lots of different people with different needs.
Asking a question can help the driver understand a little more about the passenger, their state of mind, sense of urgency, etc. That helps the driver maintain a sense of control over their own space which, again, is entered over and over again all day (or night) long. The question empowers the driver—he doesn’t have to be just the person powering the car, he can be involved in the journey.
There’s always a possibility that your view of an exchange isn’t the only interpretation. What are some other perspectives? What’s the opportunity in imagining the other side?