Monday, March 19, 2007

Not This Time 

We had a 24-hour sleet, snow, hail and whatever storm on Friday that caused hundreds of flight cancellations in the New York Area. Unlike the last time, there were fewer stories about stranded passengers on planes. The passengers never got on them. Jet Blue, still smarting from blows to its reputation caused by the last storm, was quick to cancel flights. It clearly learned its lesson. The irony, however, is that thousands of passengers still did not get to where they were going.

This raises an interesting question for PR practitioners and operational managers at airlines. What is a failure in the eyes of the public versus an act of God that passengers will forgive, even though upset? It seems that the line between passenger anger and acceptance is not well defined. It appears that if all airlines act as one, cancellations are acceptable but if some cancel and others don't, that might be a situation in which passengers become angry. Yet, airlines make decisions independently, so how is one to know what to do?

The difference in Friday's storm is that there was no doubt. No one was going to take off. What fell from the sky turned into instant cement on the ground. Saturday morning, I walked outside and my boots did not sink into four inches of ice. Fortunately for the airlines, the weather warmed rapidly, and they resumed flying quickly. Passengers appear to have accepted the delays, though weary from waiting.


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