Travelling with kindness.
Like the smartphone, the mask is currently part of everyday life. It’s an essential component of all hygiene measures, especially when it is difficult to maintain physical distancing. Wearing a mask has become the new normal, and since July 2020 it has been mandatory on public transport as well as on mountain railways, cableways and on boats. We asked train attendant Andrea Röthlin how everyday working life has changed under the new mask requirements.
The introduction of the mandatory mask policy came as a relief for Andrea Röthlin. “We felt safer because passengers now had to wear masks,” recalls Andrea Röthlin. “Implementing the mandatory mask policy was very challenging, especially at the beginning. We have our duties on the train, and in that sense we are the ‘authority figures’, even though really we’re just human beings who are also unsure and afraid.”
“At first, people didn’t even dare look you in the eye any more.”
Due to the pandemic and the mandatory mask policy, things have got quiet on the trains, reports Andrea. “At first, passengers didn’t even dare look you in the eye any more, and during inspection, they held their tickets out as far as possible,” says Andrea Röthlin thoughtfully. “They were also much less likely to say hello, especially younger people. Passengers became much more withdrawn. Those who could, avoided public transport, and the rest chose to hide behind their masks.” When ticket inspections were stopped temporarily and there were very few passengers, Andrea Röthlin struggled with motivation. Her days became very long and frustrating.
But she soon realized that clear and compassionate communication was the key to success. Low passenger numbers gave the train staff the opportunity to respond more to individual passengers. “Giving people the sense that we're all in the same boat made communication easier,” says Andrea Röthlin. “Everyone has their own story, and we were able to learn a lot about our passengers in personal conversations, allowing us to focus even more on their needs.” Sometimes, a little kindness and emotional intelligence went a long way when asking someone to wear a mask – for example, a passenger who had been eating an apple for over an hour. Older people in particular, who were very isolated in their everyday lives, often felt the need to chat to Andrea.
She smiles: “It was nice to make people feel good with a friendly chat or a nice comment. I had some great encounters over the course of the year.” For example, she was able to give a cycling group detailed advice for their trip. That level of support wouldn’t usually be possible. Many passengers thanked Andrea afterwards. Röthlin beams: “Of course we had to follow the rules, but we still had personal discretion when interpreting them for the benefit of the passengers. As train staff, we were able make things a little nicer for our customers. A spray of disinfectant, a bottle of water, or a kind word and a sweet treat soon put a smile back on the face of many a passenger.”
“Now we let our passengers get some air.”
With the warmer weather, the vaccination programme, and the loosening of lockdown restrictions, the atmosphere on the trains is much less tense. Andrea has noticed that people are often more relaxed, happier and more communicative. The train personnel now let passengers “get some air” if they pull down their mask a little on an empty train, and politely instruct them to put their mask back on when other passengers enter the carriage.
It’s unclear how long masks will remain a constant part of everyday life. Andrea Röthlin can’t wait to see the faces of her passengers from all over the world once again, including their smiles as they enjoy the many stunning moments of their journey.
Paper edition of the magazine “hin und weg” – also available as a subscription.
This is an article from the magazine “hin und weg”. You can find the printed version at the train stations in Engelberg, Sarnen, Stans and Meiringen, in all Travel Centres, as well as on trains. We will also be happy to send the magazine to your home address. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Subscribe to hin und weg magazine” and include your postal address in the body text of the message.