Last week I was at the departure gate for my home bound flight when the dreaded announcement was made by the gate agent “Flight 283 plane has been downsized and consequently we are oversold by 70 seats…. We may be able to get some of you out on an American Airline flight but most of you are going have to wait until tomorrow to get out”. The concern, tension and anxiety was palpable and immediately a queue formed at the gate desk to ask questions. The gate agent returned to the microphone and said ‘There is no point in you folks queuing up here as we have nothing today to say to you yet. If your boarding pass says “seat to be assigned” just sit down and wait and we will get to you when we can. You can probably imagine how quickly passengers began to express their anger.
I was fortunate to have a seat assignment and boarded the plane as things started to get ugly so cannot tell how the gate situation played out. However once we were boarded 2 things happened. The first was the captain came into the cabin aisle and addressed us in person over the PA (not from the cockpit which you can never properly hear but the phone handset the cabin crew use).
The Captain explained that the plane we were supposed to be on had a mechanical issue that they could not fix confidently enough for it to fly and that this was the only plane available at short notice. The second thing the Captain said was, sorry….. Amazingly that word had not been uttered in the preceding 30 to 40 minutes since the original announcement was made.
In the Mandt System we explore the crisis cycle and learn how attempt to diffuse situations to prevent escalation. Additionally we teach some basic communication principles that can communicate empathy and authenticity. That is what the Captain of Flight 283 did last week, and I for one thanked him as we disembarked at O’hare. I hope that the other passengers did not have to disrupted a trip home and that at some point somebody took the time to explain the reason behind the situation and to use that important word…sorry.
Simon Kemp – Mandt System