On Sunday 7th August I experienced a superb example of emotional intelligence (EQ) in action on my Emirates’ flight from Dubai to Newcastle. All the passengers were on board and the plane seemed ready to go when the pilot announced that the plane needed two new tyres so we would be delayed so that could be completed. The tyres were duly changed and we then taxied out to the runway. It seemed that everything was ready for take-off when another announcement came from the pilot saying unfortunately there was a technical issue and we needed to return to the gate so the engineers could fix it, resulting in a further delay.

Now, I am of the opinion that if there’s a technical issue with the plane I’m sitting on, which is about to take off and go up to 38, 000 feet, I am extremely happy to give the engineers as much time as they need to sort this out! However, I’ve travelled enough to appreciate the issues that can be caused by flight delays, such as missing connecting flights or extending the waiting time for those friends or family who come to collect you from the airport. Additionally, adding what ended up being a three-hour delay to a 7-hour flight makes for a very long and much more uncomfortable long haul journey.

What really caught my attention was the highly emotionally intelligent way in which the captain handled the situation throughout the ever-increasing delay and then during the flight itself. I recognised his use of several competencies, as outlined below, which I believe made a huge difference to the passengers’ experience.

NavigatING Emotions 

During the various announcements about the delays and throughout the flight, the captain identified and verbalised the specific emotions that passengers might be experiencing, saying that he understood it was frustrating and annoying to be delayed. From various pieces of research and anecdotal evidence, we know that naming and acknowledging people’s feelings in this way helps to soothe the physiological reaction caused by the emotion. Soothing the reaction makes it less likely that the emotion will continue to escalate and when you have over 300 people in a confined space, escalated feelings of annoyance or frustration are best avoided.

At one point, the captain commented: ‘The word of the day is resilience which we all have in bucket loads.’ It’s interesting to note that Guy Claxton defines resilience as being able to sit with uncomfortable feelings, which as a definition, certainly applied in this situation.


As an EQ competency, empathy focuses on recognising other people’s feelings and responding to those feelings appropriately. The pilot consistently and genuinely displayed his sense of empathy for passengers. He constantly thanked people for their understanding and noted that the delay had, for many people, made a long day even longer. He revealed that it was actually his 17th wedding anniversary that day, so he was equally keen to get back, as he and his wife had dinner reservations. Sharing this personal anecdote was a lovely touch.


While it’s not strictly an EQ competency, humour is great when used appropriately in the face of intense emotions. In this instance, the captain skillfully used humour to defuse any tension. Once the technical issue had been fixed and the plane was ready to go, he shared that we were just waiting for a pushback. His comment was: ‘Unfortunately the ground crew only had one Weetabix for their breakfast this morning, so they can’t push the plane, so we’ll need to wait for the correct equipment to help us out’.

Moreover, the research shows us that emotions are contagious, and the sense of humour with which the captain handled the situation seemed to spread to other members of the crew. In her final announcement just before we landed, the chief purser wished Captain Sean a happy anniversary, saying that the crew were delighted he’d made it back to see his wife, but that lots of the cabin crew were devastated that they’d missed out on their shopping opportunity!

Each of these competences of EQ were used in such a genuine and authentic way that they provided a superb example of the difference that high emotional intelligence can make in a potentially challenging situation. This was all credit to Captain Sean and the rest of the Emirates crew on flight EK035. I really hope Captain Sean and his wife had a lovely anniversary and the rest of the crew managed to get some shopping done! 

Next time you find yourself in a potentially challenging situation, try drawing upon these EQ competencies to greatly reduce the potential for turbulence.