5-Second Rules

imageM&M’s, Ritz Bits, Grapes, Twizzlers and Skittles are all subject to the standard 5-second rule. Drop it, and if you can pick it up, blow it off and eat it quickly enough, it’s not contaminated. Sure, you’d tell your kids to throw it out but if they’re in bed, you’re eating that bad boy. And the closer you are to the end of the bag, the longer it takes to count to five.

Hard-shell candy is a pretty easy decision. Unwrapped chocolate like Reese’s Minis raise the awareness of time and floor conditions a bit. Stuff that can be washed off is subject to the rule, but sticky stuff can’t be saved. Rice Krispy Treats – yeah those are going out – especially if you have cats.

The notion that ill-effects can be reversed if we act quickly enough is one that I think needs to be embraced by a much larger audience. No, I’m not talking about restaurant spills (although there is the spaghetti sauce story from my catering days…). I’m not even talking about food. I’m talking about the other inconvenient momentary lapses that I’ve suffered. Recently, I’ve been snared by a few online reservation dilemmas that have brought me to reach for a non-existent 5-second rule.

Two weeks ago, I was making airline reservations for a business trip later this year. I’ll be traveling on Southwest. I’m leaving some parties anonymous but this is necessary to the story. You see, sometimes when I fly, I try to include a stopover in Iowa – to visit my brother.

Southwest is a difficult airline on which to book a 3-city trip. You can book the first two legs of your journey on one reservation, but you can’t complete the loop. You need to book that last leg as a separate flight and then stitch the two flights together. It’s a bit unnerving because, for a few minutes, you’re not coming home.

First, I checked the regular round-trip fare. I need to do that to be able to split the cost with my employer. Then, I checked the cost of adding a stop in Des Moines to the trip. Des Moines (DSM), like nearby Bradley (BDL) where I start and end my trips, is a small “terminal destination” airport, meaning flights to and from it are expensive. The next step is one every husband will recognize. I checked with my wife to verify that the travel dates and costs work with our schedule and budget. Cleared for takeoff, so to speak, I checked the availability and pricing of hotel rooms in Iowa. image

Rooms were available at what I have come to accept as the normal price for staying at a Fairfield Inn in the middle of a corn field, albeit a corn field in a college town during the semester. Off to Southwest to complete parts one and two of my reservation. Back to the hotel site where I was greeted by a price that was now $110 more than the price I had been offered 10 minutes earlier. I called. I complained. I was told that not only was school in session, but there was a football game during my stay. “Prices change pretty quickly as rooms get scarfed up during football season” I was told. Small consolation.

I should have known better. I do know better. “Book the room” because you can cancel the room. You can’t always cancel a flight without paying a fee. In fact, I should have known this because of an earlier brush with an absent 5-second rule involving a side-trip to Iowa.

I had worked through the same reservation scenario with a different airline to extend a different business trip to include a stop in Iowa. That airline offered “multi-city” but I was flying from Boston to San Diego to Des Moines and then returning to Hartford so it was a bit more complex. I booked the hotels, the flights, and a rental car in one city and then I started to draft an itinerary for my wife. When I got to the last entry on that list, I realize that I had made the return flight one day later than I had planned. I called the airline:

I’m sorry but you’ve waited too long to correct this error for free. There will be a $125 fee to change your reservation.”

“$125? You have to be kidding. I made the reservations less than an hour ago.”

An argument ensued but ended when I realized that it was cheaper to stay in Iowa an extra day than it would be to change my flight. Coincidentally, this is when I started flying Southwest. I can hold a grudge a long time.

I mentioned the hotel brand earlier because in both cases, the people at Marriott were as gracious and helpful as they could be. In the “I hate your airline so much I’d rather stay an extra day in I-O-wa than give you $125” incident, Marriott not only changed my reservation, but the customer service representative pointed out that I had two free-night certificates that were expiring. Using those allowed me to both extend my stay and lower my cost. In this most recent reservation snafu, the customer service representative couldn’t invoke the 5-second rule I requested. However, he resurrected an already expired free-night certificate for one night, and he applied a Triple-A (AAA) discount to the other nights. His kind actions brought the cost to within $20 of my original budget.

I’m running up against my self-imposed word limit, but the other place I would add a 5-second rule is on line choices. Toll plazas, supermarkets, ice cream stands and TSA all need a 5-second rule that you can invoke once you realize that the line you just chose is moving slower than the next one over.


  1. I do remember a rather similar 5-second rule when it comes to candies being dropped and picked up within that time frame. I guess our custom was lengthier by 10 seconds. :)
    I am not a frequent flier but I think airlines are like all service companies: their mistakes, you forgive, yours, you suffer.


  2. Brilliant post Dan. We totally have the five second rule at home. The undo button on Gmail was a great addition. For 5 seconds after you hit send there’s an option to undo that floats at the top of the screen. I wish it had an option to set it for longer!


  3. I do not eat things that have fallen on the floor. A dropped pill, I will, once rinsed, if possible. I have seen an aged person pull up a floor register for a $30 pill, so pills are a bit different.
    I know it’s completely psychological. The pediatrician says it’s okay for people to put things from the floor into their mouths (pacifiers, toys, crackers) so long as it’s not a bathroom floor, but it grosses me out anyway.
    I have very little experience flying, and only once did I fly alone, so I can’t add anything to that. The hotel situation though, I have tons of experience with. I find that online prices are seldom lower than when I speak to a person. I’ll say, “I’m looking at two adjoining rooms at $125 a night,” and am told, “Today, for you, $99.” and am thanked for calling to speak to a person, they’re glad to have my business, etc, etc. In fact, I won’t book if I’m not treated so delightfully, lol — but then again, not so much Iowa, and more vacation destinations. I frequently book hotels for other people :)


    1. My brother would canvas the floor for one of hid wife’s pills, but they were about $80 a copy. I’m not recommending eating off the floor, but when that last M&M falls, well… Not often traveling to vacation destinations. I mean, other than Ded Moines. :)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Unfortunately, in my culture there is no such thing as the five-second rule. My people believe that when a bit of food or snack falls to ground, there are demons who taste it at once. These demons are agents of bad luck.

    As for air travel, I’ve little experience. But I know that whenever they err, they expect people understand.


    1. One of the things l love about WordPress and people like yourself who take the time to comment is learning about other cultures. I don’t follow those beliefs, but I must say, I’ll probably think about demons the next time I drop a snack. Thanks for the comment.


      1. Neither do I, Dan. As a Christian, I find such belief superstitious, but only had to bring it up as I thought it was somewhat relevant to the topic.

        It’s a pleasure reading your blog posts.


  5. So you can hold a grudge for a long time! :-) I’m glad that the customer service person at the Marriot was able to give you great service. It was a bucket-filling experience for both of you.
    I don’t fly often. However, I do have some crazy airport stories! Many years ago, our plane took off while we were reading the newspaper and eating chocolate:)

    About the 5 second rule- we definitely uphold that rule in our home. Germs? What germs? : ) You can’t let good candy go to waste.

    Best wishes to you and your family for a great week.


    1. Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment. I guess it isn’t so much holding a grudge, but the poor customer service pushed me to consider a different airline and now I travel on that airline about 75% of the time. Companies say that they understand how important it is to keep customers but they often act as if they don’t. Sorry you missed your flight, but at least you had chocolate.


  6. I feel that some companies learn their mission statement, but they don’t live it. I held a grudge against a children’s store for many years (my kids are now adults) because of the manner in which a manager/supervisor spoke to her employee. One Saturday morning I took my children shopping and while we were in line, the person in charge started to yell at the cashier. The poor girl was clearly embarrassed and was almost in tears. Before leaving the store, I approached the “yeller” and told her that it was not necessary for her to speak to her employee in that tone. I also told her that what she did was bad for business and I won’t ever shop at the store again. I kept my word.


    1. Good for you. That;s a great story. I’m glad that you took the time to tell the manager that her action was inappropriate and that is was going to have consequences.


  7. Every husband might recognize that all-important checking-with-the-wife step, but some repeatedly choose to ignore it !

    By the time I finished reading this, I was thinking, “Dan, you can drive to Iowa in less time than it takes to make the reservations”. :-). At least that’s how I feel in similar situations.

    Good post !! I use the 5-second rule daily.


    1. Sometimes, I forget too, but it’s scary when you do check and then your hotel steps it up to the point that you’ve more than doubled the “approved” budget. I have considered driving. Right now, it’s too much time. Maybe after I retire I will give that some thought, especially if the BDL-DSM fares hang as high as they are. It’s almost cheaper to go to Hawaii than Des Moines. Thanks for dropping by.


      1. I do miss the days when “real customer service reps” helped us. It is the legs to smaller airports that bust the budget, as you said. Perhaps your brother would consider moving to Hawaii :-)


        1. He’d probably be willing to meet in the middle, but that would either be Detroit or Cleveland so… I guess I snag a cheap round-trip to Chicago and drive from there.


  8. I had already checked with my wife about our trip to Poland before scheduling a talk at the Arcadia History Museum . The curator published the schedule . There I was , scheduled for August . A day after the schedule was circulated around the city my wife told me , no , the dates of our trip had changed and we would be in Poland in August . Sometimes you just can’t win . A 5-second rule ? How about a RESET button on things like this ?


  9. Great post and your readers supplied some interesting comments! I’d give Twizzlers the 5-sec rule but not hard candy, that seems to mold itself to the floor. I certainly would go after the last M & M! :roll: Duh!


    1. Sometimes, 5 seconds is too long because that means that the dog has tried to get it first. She’s closer to the ground. I also wish WordPress had a 5-second rule for posts with typos. I can correct the mistakes, but the people who mainly read the email probably think I’m illiterate. I do love the comments, thanks for adding yours.


  10. OMG Dan you sound just like my husband. We travel quite a bit by plane and he freaks every time he finds the “perfect” flight, especially if he has to leave the page for anything at all. I think it’s a cruel sort of Pac Man game the “big” airline guy in the sky is playing with all of us schmucks who need a good deal. :)


  11. My very American kids scream in horror when I pick a candy from the floor even if I’m very quick. Less than five seconds, I swear! In France people are pretty laid back about that.
    The five second rules should be apply to any online activity. Including, like you write above, on WordPress. Sometimes I catch a typo as I click on Post Comment. Frantically I type the correct spelling, Too late… Gone…
    Entertaining post, Dan, as always.


    1. I would have expected the French/American approach to be the other way round. Maybe it’s our obsession with anti-bacterial everything. I’ve always said that for me to find the typos that we miss, I just need to make it public. Thanks for your support here.


  12. I miss the days when there was a 5 second rule with the airlines. In fact, it was more like a 5 day rule. Those days are long gone, though.

    At the moment, I’m sitting on a reservation to a conference in Dallas that I erroneously made for a Friday night instead of Saturday night. I’m facing an extra night in a Dallas conference hotel alone versus trying to get the airline to change my reservation for $200. (That’s on a $240 ticket. I’m frugal and book ahead. But not always well.) Calling the airline is like putting my head in a pot of boiling oil and will cost $200. I think I’ll see what there is to do on a Saturday in Dallas.



    1. That’s a pretty steep fee given the ticket price. When I tried to get them to change, I said “I don’t fly a log but I always try to fly your airline. ” the guy said “we appreciate that and if you want, you can use frequent flyer points to pay the fee.” Not the response I was hoping for. Enjoy Dallas. Eat some barbecue or a nice thick steak.


      1. I’m OCD about my MMs, as well. Grouped by color is a given… get rid of the blue first because blue candy is just strange. Then red, because it looks obscene next to those autumn colors that are left. Then yellow and orange because green and brown MMs look so pretty sitting next to each other. Sadly, brown has to go next because the green ones are treasures from Leprechauns…maybe. ;) Nothing else in my life has that sort of order, I assure you. Have a great night.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. So that thing about “The germs were not aware” is known worldwide. The first time I heard it I thought it was a joke and I laughed my head off. But I became used to it with time. One day in 2001, one of my classmates picked a huge chunk of bread from the floor and ate it during lunch. That chink of bread had been dropped by a different person who had elected to leave it there. My classmate, he announced, while looking around at us as if afraid of reproof: “The germs were not aware!” We just laughed. He was a strange person. He like sleeping in class. One day, when he was to be punished for it, he told the teacher that he’d been sleeping because “We are made to wake and study at dawn.” The teacher let him go, but asked me, being the class representative, to investigate the matter. She said it wasn’t advantageous to study by ourselves at dawn and miss the entire day’s lessons when the teachers were present. But that very day, I saw that man in the dining hall with three massive chunks of bread (everybody was allocated one), a plate overflowing with bean soup, a mug of porridge, and jug of water. I told him the next time he lied to the teacher I’d interrupt him and tell the truth.
    And concerning those flights, recently, we had a meeting at a place that required us to fly. My colleague was late by 8 minutes. His flight was rescheduled at an additional cost of half the ticket price.


  14. This post brought a smile to my face. And I think you could add one more entity that needs to invoke the 5-second rule: Congress. Especially when they realize 5 seconds too late the law they just passed is going to get them into lots of hot water!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.