• End the airport misery.


    Editorial: End the airport misery.

    The global air transport industry ended the year with a remarkable achievement; in 2017, there were no fatalities on large commercial jets.

    The people at airlines, manufacturers, regulatory and security organizations have worked ceaselessly over decades to improve commercial air transport safety and to learn from every single accident. The result is an industry that has achieved an astonishing global safety standard that in 2017 recorded just 1.2 incidents per million flight sectors, according to IATA statistics.

    As a result, highest safety standards are, quite rightly, expected by the traveling public and airline flight crews. Yet, too often, airlines “sell” safety, or at least hide behind it when things go wrong. When there’s a delay or a cancellation, airlines are often quick to remind passengers that the inconvenience caused is necessary “because your safety is our top priority.” Many airlines still emphasize in their welcome aboard messages that the flight crews are there “primarily for your safety.”

    What airlines and airports should be doing is preparing for disruption and working to minimize the inconvenience.

    Already this winter we have seen too much misery inflicted on passengers at some of the world’s largest hub airports—at Atlanta Hartsfield, where there was a total power outage, and at London Heathrow and New York JFK, which saw mass delays and cancellations because of wintry weather. While the impact on operations of these types of events will inevitably cause disruptions and some of those will be safety-related—such as delays necessary to keep runways clear and aircraft de-iced—there is no longer any excuse for not properly looking after customers during such events

    Instead, there is a depressing pattern. Passengers are given little-to-no information. Airline websites and call centers buckle under the stress. Airline and airport staff are too few, difficult to locate and often overwhelmed. Luggage goes missing. There are frightening crowd crushes. 

    It’s precisely when things go wrong that information is most sought by customers and most critically needed. Airlines must work to make their IT and communications systems more durable. Better contingency plans need to be in place so that extra staff are on hand and can demonstrate that they care. They should be trained in high-stress customer service management and equipped with tools that can at least make passengers feel they are being taken care of, not dumped on an airport floor for hours with no idea when they will fly.

    Most of all, airlines and airports need to work more closely together so that they have coordinated plans in place to take care of their customers when things go wrong. 

    In this industry, things will always go wrong and it’s tough on operations. But this is a service industry. If all airlines and airports prioritized customer service the way they do safety, it would be an achievement even more remarkable than 2017’s safety record. (By Karen Walker).



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