American Airlines — fighting the public relations debacle it suffered in December, when bad weather forced the carrier to ground dozens of flights for hours at a time — said this week if such an event happens again, passengers won’t have to wait as long before they’re able to get off the aircraft.
Airline spokesman Tim Wagner told the Dallas Morning News from now on, the airline won’t hold passengers on grounded planes longer than four hours. If that still sounds like a lot, keep in mind some passengers were stranded on crowded planes over eight hours on December 29.
In this business we tend to operate in a vacuum believing (well…) that the strains that we are suffering with diversion and delay are somehow affecting us more than the other airline. It ain’t necessarily so“ of course, it is a pan-industry problem affecting just about everyone who travels by air or works in the ‘trade.’
The customer relations disasters that have been precipitated (like those above to AA) by bad weather, baggage handling facilities, industrial action and the spectrum of other nightmares that have become part of the ‘air transport system’ have been lamentable worldwide of late.
The greatest problem affecting the European arena based based around infra-structural shortcomings both airline, network and airport. Since 9/11 every carrier has had to either shred its staffing levels and overheads or sink in the cost lake. Now that we are all starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the shortcomings of working with frankly too few staff in critical areas is showing the areas of weakness and multiplying the effects of disruption.
The base I operate from was conceived in the late forties and designed to cope with the limit of the vision that was prevalent at the time. The unparalleled expansion of air travel over the last thirty years has wreaked havoc with the antiquated terminal and airport facilities being just not fit for purpose. I suppose JFK is the nearest US approximate that I have experience of, like Heathrow, struggling and hacking it – but only just.
Yes, new terminals are being built and facilities improved all the time with Terminal 5 at Heathrow coming on line during March ’08. However even T5 doesn’t have sufficient gate space according to some commentators near the centre of things.
The system is under pressure and the administrators of the transport system need to acknowledge that with the expansion rates that are being forecast, unless something is done life in the terminals is going to get worse.
The expectations of the traveling public need modifying to accommodate reality, the facilities that ameliorate the disruption that follows in the wake of these ‘unscheduled events’ like security and weather delays need looking at again with a blank sheet of paper.
The enormous human problem that comes with masses of people concentrated in these cavernous buildings requires a solution that addresses the needs of the travelers trapped in the machine.
We need staff, entertainment, information handling systems that broadcast the truth and the solutions being applied to the situation that we find ourselves in. We need much more in the way of rest and relaxation facilities to cut the tension and provide our customers with alternate ways of using what has become ‘dead time.’ This is going to require new thinking and investment to ensure that what emerges is integrated enough to be flexible and useful during normal operations.
As always this is going to need funding; if ticket costs are to rise as an way of curbing explosive expansion in air travel that will assault the planet in the near future, maybe we need to spend some of that money being prized out of the pockets of our customers to transform their airport travel experience, in both good times and bad.
And we haven’t even touched on what the affects of these woes on the staff who work in the Terminal spaces… a story for another time.