Yesterday, Christmas Eve, was not a good day for the airlines. Flooding at Gatwick airport meant that they had to contend with a power failure, as well as the adverse weather, and delays morphed into cancellations. By 2pm, 54 Easyjet flights had been cancelled. If we put a finger in the air and say that each flight had around 150 people on it, that's 8,100 adults and children who didn't make it to their Christmas destinations.
Now. We all know that these things happen. We are unlucky if we're caught up in it, but the lives of those people sent away yesterday probably won't be significantly altered in the long term. They will probably get some form of compensation somewhere down the line. They might have a chicken in the freezer that they can defrost, or some nice neighbours who will take pity on them. Come Boxing Day, they might reflect that actually, they didn't have such a bad time after all.
Except. Except...if the airlines had been upfront with their customers, using honest and accurate lines of communication, and sending them home the minute that they knew things were going to go tits up - then that's ok. Annoying, yes, but in the end - there's nothing to be done. Everyone can see it's been chucking it down and there's no leccie. It's pants - but at least there's Dr Who on the telly.
But they don't. They never do. I haven't quite worked out why this is, but it must be to do with the financials. My guess is that they are struggling to keep the flight 'live', even if it's delayed, because cancelling a flight probably means that they have to pay a whopping fine to - somebody. So behind the scenes they try all means possible to find a plane that can take off within a couple of hours of its allotted time.
Imagine this. OneWing Airlines is in the shit. The flooding has meant that its flight schedule is up the swollen creek without a paddle. Its three Customer Service advisors are being paid time and a half (possibly up to £9 per hour) to deal with the increasingly angry hoards, braying at the front desk. Behind the scenes, they draw straws to see who has to go out and face them. They don't know the full story or what's happening, or worse, have been misinformed, and have to deliver the bad news that - well - they don't really know when the flights will leave. They are poorly trained. They are not paid enough. They are overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, the passengers are staging a revolt. Their initial annoyance has turned to anger. They want - need - to get to Newcastle/Paris/Malaga for Christmas. They have been waiting for hours. Probably with small braying children. They haven't had anything to drink. They are afraid to go to the toilet in case they miss their flight. The crush is hideous. Things start to turn ugly.
The three Customer Service advisors are scared. Instead of apologising, they are defensive, and start shouting. One of them takes the decision to call in the police.
And now suddenly, an airport check-in area on Christmas Eve has become a military-like zone, controlled by men with guns.
And so here is a thought for all airlines, whether cut-price or full-price. Why not set yourself apart from the others by becoming the 'John Lewis' of your type? Be the airline which prides itself in communication. Make sure that, at pinch point times like yesterday (adverse weather, strikes and the like), you have one person who knows what the bloody hell is going on, and is trained to deliver the news to your customers swiftly and honestly. Make sure you pay them well. And to all your waiting customers - from the off, give them free drinks, maybe a mine pie or two at Christmas. Hire more staff and tell them to smile. If you pay them properly, maybe they will smile anyway. Yes, it will cost you more. But if you get a good name for customer service, you can put flight prices up a little bit and people will still book with you. I know! It's amazing! Because - get this - good customer service is still important to us all.
Be honest, and communicate. We all know that shit happens. But if you treat us like human beings, we tend to make the best of it.