If mishaps are going to happen, they'll happen when you're travelling.
Earlier this week, I flew on Delta from Orlando to Portland, Maine with a layover in Atlanta. When I travel on business, I never check my luggage.
Just as I was about to board the plane in Orlando, I was told that there was no more room in the overhead bins, and that I’d have to check my luggage through to my final destination – the very thing I was trying to avoid, because I loathe staring idly at a luggage courosel, especially at 11:30 at night.
By the time we finally got wheels up in Orlando, we were 30 minutes behind schedule. When we landed in Atlanta, I had a mere five minutes to make my connecting flight – the last one of the night to Portland, Maine.
Once we landed in Atlanta, I asked the flight attendant if he had the departure gate information for connecting flights.
“No - we don't always get that information."
Delta, is there any reason why you don’t ALWAYS give flight attendants the connecting gate information? Sure, you do it sometimes, but you didn’t do it this time. What's preventing you from doing it every time? If it helps just one customer, it's worth it.
So, I ran up the jetway, out into the terminal, and checked the nearest monitor… "Portland, Maine - Gate B18." I was at gate B4, about 200 yards away. I started running, broke a good airport sweat at about the 50-yard mark, and heard the final call for Portland.
Without breaking stride, I cut right to dodge a set of twins from the movie "The Shining" wearing matching tank-tops and Mickey Mouse ears, then immediately cut left to avoid running over an elderly woman in a wheelchair. I hated to be the jerk in a hurry, but I was that guy, because a reticent Delta had me on a scavenger hunt.
I crossed the goal-line at the Portland gate just as the attendant was about the close the jetway door. Feigning composure, I asked:
“Did anyone from Delta notify you or the flight crew that a couple of your passengers just arrived from Orlando?”
“No, they didn't. Besides, you made it with 10 seconds to spare.”
When I stepped inside the airplane, the pilot happened to be standing by the entrance. I asked him the same question. His answer:
“Sometimes they tell us if we have passengers on the way from a late connection, but they don't tell us all the time.”
“But shouldn’t they tell you every time?”
After a brief pause, he said, “Yes, they should.”
Had they done so, my luggage may have also made the connection. It didn't, but nobody told me that either, so when I arrived in Portland at 11:30, I had to stare idly at the baggae caroulsel, until all the luggage had arrived - except for mine. That meant I had to waste another 15 minutes so I could complete the "lost baggage" report, because Delta never tell the Portland-bound flight crew that they had luggage on the way.
Hey Delta, you guys had all the information in your system to know that the flight just in from Orlando had at least two passengers that were booked on the Portland flight. Is there any good reason why you didn’t share that with the Portland crew, so that they could act on it, and make life easier for your customers?
The reality is, this kind of situation isn't limited to Delta, or the airline industry. There are plenty of situations where a customer experience goes south, for lack of proper communication.
So, what could Delta have done to prevent this kind of negative experience, and what can any company do to to improve their customers’ experiences through better communication?
- Study the information that's gathered and created during the course of transactions, and determine where and how that information can be useful to the customer, or customer-facing employees, for the sake of the customer experience.
- Create a process to make that information readily available, and be clear about the outcome that you're trying to accomplish, by sharing it. Delta should have first shared the connecting gate information with the flight attendants, so that they could pass it on to the passengers. Next, Delta should have informed all connecting flights waiting for Orlando passengers, that the flight had just arrived, and where feasible, to delay take-off until the passengers arrived.
- Build the information sharing and delivery into your standard procedures; don’t make it optional, because what’s optional often doesn’t get done. If Delta can make it standard procedure to the tell us to close our tray-tables and put our seatbacks in the upright position, they can also make it standard procedure to share connecting gate information, and “close-call arrivals” to connecting flight crews.
Information and knowledge that's not put to productive use, is, well... useless.