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Lesson from an Airport Greeting

My career as a professional speaker requires me to spend a great deal of time in airports. Most days I can report numerous bizarre sightings from airports around the country, but on one occasion I had the opportunity to witness something pretty spectacular.

I had just arrived into San Antonio on a flight home and was racing through the airport headed for the parking garage. As I approached the escalator to baggage claim, I noticed a dozen or so people standing on the other side of security waiting for arriving passengers. A few people were talking on their cell phones. Some were chasing their kids. One lady was reading a book. Nothing out of the ordinary … until I got a little closer.

Just as I got to the security line, a young lady emerged from the small crowd with her eyes locked solidly on someone behind me. She had a smile on her face and a look in her eye that indicated she was greeting someone she’d missed terribly. After she almost knocked me down running toward the person behind me, it was apparent that she couldn’t see anything in the airport but her target. Her world stopped spinning for that moment.

As she ran past me, I took a few steps forward and stepped to the side so I could look back and witness the encounter. Who could she possibly be greeting with that kind of eagerness? When they embraced, it became obvious. She embraced a man wearing a United States Army uniform. As I stood there and watched while other arriving passengers hurried to their cars, I felt I was peeking into the window of their souls.

With all the changes to air travel over the past decade, there are many things I miss. I miss an easy process at the security checkpoint. I miss on-time departures and arrivals. But mostly, I miss those airport greetings. Do you remember when family and friends would gather inside the airport in anticipation of seeing loved ones arrive? I miss that. Although they’re less frequent, they’re pretty cool when you get to see them.

As I think back on the experience, I remember thinking there was something wrong with the fact there were a dozen people waiting to greet their friends and family inside the airport and 60 cars making the loop outside the airport. I realized at that point that airport greetings are so rare because fewer people are willing to get out of the car. Instead, they drive around the airport a dozen times to save a dollar for parking. Or even worse, they go park in a “cell phone lot” and wait for someone to call when they get on the ground.

If the person is worth getting off the couch to pick up at the airport, they’re worth a surprise greeting inside the airport. So, the next time you go to the airport to pick someone up, park your car and go inside to greet them. Don’t use the excuse that you can’t go to the gate anymore. You can greet them at security. It shouldn’t matter if they’ve been gone a year to Iraq or a day trip to Little Rock. Get out of the car.

Simple lessons in everyday occurrences. You don’t have to hang around airports to find them. You just have to be willing to look around on a daily basis. When you discover some of those simple lessons, learn from them. And once you’ve benefited from them, pass them along. When you do, you’ve experienced true everyday leadership.

Clint Swindall

© 2015 Clint Swindall — Clint is the president & CEO of Verbalocity, Inc., a personal development company with a focus on leadership enhancement. For information about how he can enhance employee engagement in your organization, please visit, or contact him directly at

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