Now that I am back home, enjoying the beautiful snow in Bellingham, have a full tummy and a good night’s rest, I can look back on the “flight from purgatory” with a little less emotion. I much appreciate the comments made about my outburst.
I certainly agree and should have made more clear that I have absolutely no issue with the airport making the decision to close given the conditions, or the pilot making that decision. It clearly was the right and safe thing to do. My comment about that was the passengers were commenting quite loudly that if they didn’t have the mechanical problems, we would have made it in plenty of time. But when the announcement were made about the landing in Pasco there was no apology, no recognition of their contribution to the discomfort and inconvenience and no explanation of why they had to land all the way across the state instead of somewhere like Seattle or Paine Field in Everett where transportation to Bellingham would have been much easier.
My whole complaint with this airline is about communication. And the reason I write about this is not to try and do damage to them, but to draw lessons of value to communicators and crisis communicators. Trust is built on two pillars: right action and effective communication. They took the right actions–I’m glad they didn’t fly with a busted airplane and I’m glad they didn’t try to land in a snowstorm (the landing we had into stiff and bumpy north winds was scary enough). But their communication was consistently inadequate and that is the only thing that constituted a customer service problem or a crisis here.
(By the way I should have mentioned they did provide us with juice and donuts while waiting in Pasco. As you can tell, my mood is better now.)
In short, here is what they did wrong:
– No recognition of their part in the diversion.
– No information as to why Pasco.
– No information about what their plans for us were.
– Incredibly poor gate announcements with a speaker system that made it impossible to hear, which I mentioned caused confusion that almost erupted into a fight.
– Very poor handling of customer complaints resulting from their poor communication
– No empowerment or training of employees at front line to handle a customer issue.
– No visible attitude of concern for impact on passengers of the delay and diversion problems
– No apology
– Inadequate compensation for the problems
I am convinced that underlying this is a serious cultural and management issue. After reading two books recently (hope to do reviews on both as they are very worthwhile) about the character and culture of organizations and how that relates to trust internal and external, I am focused on the organization’s cultural impacts on external reputation. I am quite certain we didn’t accidentally get a group of employees who clearly didn’t know how to handle a challenging customer service situation. We were in the hands of a company who sees their job as ferrying the most people possible the cheapest way possible to Las Vegas and making money at it. So be it. That is their focus, that is their mission, that is their business model. I just don’t want to pay the price for that again. God bless competition and free enterprise–we can all choose to get what we want and are willing to pay for.