Five Lessons from A Non-Flight

I was supposed to visit a business partner in the Bahamas yesterday to finalize a training program I will be delivering in January.  Thanks to a series of errors, I never made it.

As our departure time came and went, the Captain announced that a certain maintenance certificate had expired last night at midnight (seven hours previously).  When the maintenance crew came to do this inspection, they inspected the wrong plane so our plane was not legal to fly.  We’d be leaving in about 30-40 minutes.  Excellent! There goes my connection….

I looked up the alternate flights and learned that whatever flight I would be move onto would get me there too late for a series of meetings I was to have in the afternoon.  I opted to get off the plane, take my refund and go home.

With ample time to consider my experience, I’ve put together this list of five things that you must build into your client care process:

1) Planning – How a certificate expires seemingly unexpectedly is baffling.  There are some pretty rigorous standards to fly planes with definite expiration dates that are known in advance.  Given the preponderance of scheduling software (that runs my life), someone must have really dropped the ball.  We know situations change but if you plan your work and work your plan, what could go wrong?  Plenty but at least you are prepared.

2) Accuracy – Aircraft have tail numbers on them and inspecting the wrong plane makes me wonder what the crew was doing right before they inspected the wrong plane.  I have spell check, and people to review my math but this is different – matching numbers and letters ought not be a challenge, especially given that the Manchester, NH is small and there were literally two or three of this airlines planes there.

3) Genuine Care – As soon as the flight attendants heard abut the problem, the drinks cart was out  and they went to work serving us a beverage in an effort I’d imagine to lessen the blow of a delayed flight.  When you come from a place of service, you are strong for serving others is the highest calling.  Granted this was just juice and coffee; it was impressive nonetheless.

4) Compassion – Instead  of the typical ‘we’re delayed, too bad, so sad, bye bye’, the Captain said, ‘I’m sure you’re angry and frustrated’.  By acknowledging the pending anger and frustration, he joined our merry little band of 90 delayed passengers.  He then deepened that by announcing that many of the crew we going home and were not happy about the situation.  If you acknowledge the situation but more importantly the impact on your customers, you defuse the situation.  This ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality, aligns customers and providers together instead of the typical ‘us v. them’ dynamic that can be the norm

5) Accept ‘What ‘Is’ – Sure we all would have preferred that the certificate had been renewed and further that the crew had inspected the right plane, but given the situation, we all had two choices: sit and fume and complain or stay calm and just be.  The woman sitting across the aisle from me was the first to loudly spout about how ‘absurd this is’.  I professed that there was a reason this had happened and another passenger said he’d always prefer to be on the ground wishing to be in the air, instead of the reverse.  Who knows what tragedy might have befallen us all in our own way had the flight gone off on time.  Was this avoidable?  Sure.  Was it mostly incompetent?  Yup.  But instead of getting our blood pressure up and escalating into cacophony of angry complaints, we mostly remained calm. At least that was the mood as I took my bags and departed the plan, went to the gate and got my refund.

The plane left two hours and five minutes late so  cannot vouch for what happened after I took my leave.

Despite the fact that I describe the airline industry as the most customer abusive in the world, this particular flight crew did a great job of caring for us hapless souls on the plane that day.  They take pride in their work and it was refreshing to see.  Not only did I take away these lessons to share, I got a full refund. Imagine that – an airline giving a full refund!

Yes, there many reasons it was a truly anomalous day in aviation history.