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Communication Is Key

April 17, 2014

By Andrew Eitelbach, senior manager of marketing and communications

I recently took a business trip and flew on an airline I’d never used before. Things went smoothly until halfway through takeoff when, suddenly, the pilot throttled down and began taxiing back to the gate. He used the intercom to inform passengers that a warning light had flashed, that it was probably nothing, but it needed to be checked out. Hopefully, he told us, we’d be back into the takeoff queue in no time.

As we sat at the gate, the pilot gave us periodic updates about what was going on. He explained the warning light had signaled the flaps weren’t working properly but that it was likely a problem with the light, not the flaps. When we hit 20 minutes of wait time, he explained why they need to do things properly to ensure safety, and then what that meant in this specific case. When they deboarded the plane and pushed our departure time by two hours, the pilot stood near the plane door offering apologies and reassured passengers that this was the right call.

Once off the plane, a colleague and I retreated to a different part of the airport to wait out the delay, which stretched from two hours into four. When it was time to reboard, we walked back to the gate and found the pilot still standing there calmly talking about the issue and explaining to passengers what had happened, what was done to fix it, and why. He had been doing this all day.

While the gate crew worked to get people onto other flights and scrounged up sandwiches to hand out to the delayed passengers, it was the pilot who impressed me the most. He offered a direct line of communication to anyone seeking answers. He spoke clearly, patiently, calmly, and at length to ease worries and make sure that anyone who was affected understood the situation and was comfortable with the current course of action. It was great customer service.

Sure, it would have been nice to avoid the delay, but great customer service left me singing the pilot’s praises to everyone I talked to instead of bashing the airline on Twitter out of frustration.

Like I said, this was my first time using this particular airline. If it wasn’t for the tremendous efforts of this pilot to alleviate fears and clearly communicate with customers, it would have surely been my last.

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