Retailers’ Sick Leave and Airlines’ Cancellation Policies are Killing Us

Ok, that is a controversial headline. But it’s true. Hear me out.

In the 1990s I was a junior executive at a company that sponsored a major conference. I was a key planner and facilitator, so I was compelled to go. Problem was, the day before I was scheduled to depart, I got sick. Common cold I thought, but it could have been the flu. Bottom line, I felt rotten. 

I can still remember the outcast feeling, sneezing and coughing on the airplane from DC to Dallas, as everyone nearby shot me dirty looks. Sadly, they were captive in their packed-like-sardines assigned seats, inhaling the certain infection I was delivering to their local atmosphere. 

At the conference I was miserable, popping pills and chugging cough syrup that barely gave me the sense of normalcy. Still, I shook hands and socialized with colleagues. I probably single-handedly was responsible for a hundred people getting sick within two weeks. I am not proud of this. 

For heaven’s sake, why did I go? My company expected me to go. 

If I didn’t go, the company would have lost the cost of my airline ticket. We would have lost some or all of the hotel cost, and my role at the conference, integral as I thought it was, would have been filled by lesser-qualified staff and the experience of our attendees would have been diminished. It seemed obvious at the time – I had to go.

COVID-19 is upon us and will be for maybe a year or two. We’re wearing masks and social distancing, with some people slowly coming out of their homes and beginning the process of normalcy. So what’s different from my experience in the 1990s? Nothing. 

Only one airline has a customer-friendly cancellation policy, Southwest. While you can’t get your money back, if you don’t use your ticket, you can still use it anytime for another flight. The rest of the airlines are suspending their strict cancellation policies for the time being, but I’ll bet you a dollar that they’ll return to their unfriendly customer cancellation policies of use-it-or-lose-it as soon as the coronavirus is under control. 

Most retail businesses have no sick leave policy. You take off work and you lose your paycheck. Think of all the people out of work today, from clothing and shoe stores, restaurants, big-box stores, flower shops, and everything in-between. Do they have sick leave? Very few. And for those who do have sick leave, it’s just a few days per year. Bottom line is that people are choosing between infecting others and a paycheck. My dumb 35-year-old self chose the paycheck. 

How many trillions of dollars does it take to teach Americans a lesson? There’s no amount of stimulus and debt that will convince us to change. I can predict the future… Congress is not going to pass a law requiring employers to offer sick leave, and they’re not going to force airlines to offer more financially forgiving cancellation policies. And as a result, I believe we are going to continue to infect each other, for longer than we’d like. I wish it wasn’t this way, but I’m not optimistic. 

There are some significant long-term changes that we will see in society, changes that we have been abruptly thrown into, like expanded teleworking and Zooming with friends. In my next blog, I’ll be talking about what’s changing around us, what may stick and what may drift away.

Stay safe and healthy!

And check out my book Connect! How to Quickly Collaborate for Success in Business and Life. You’ll get lots of great ideas for connecting with those around you and making all your interactions more positive and effective.

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