Image by Ingy The Wingy via FlickrThe chaos in Europe's skies is continuing quite nicely, with irate passengers all asking the same question we asked under the ash cloud: why on earth aren't the airlines communicating with us? All we want is information and perhaps even access to rebooking facilities.
Having given up on Virgin Atlantic, whose failure to communicate extended to a Twitter account that tells you it can't do anything and directs you back to the call centre (and a GSA in Dubai that is as much use as a chocolate welding mask), we rebooked the inlaws onto Etihad (at almost twice the price, I have to say. Airlines, slow to help passengers rebook or endorse their tickets to another airline were nevertheless quick enough to ramp up their pre-Chrismas rates). The flight left just in time to be under the snow as it wended its merry way West from shamed Heathrow. They travelled to the airport down motoroways whitened with packed snow, getting to Dublin in perfect time to watch the airport close.
However, Etihad's handling of the situation was entirely a different story. They were met by meal vouches and, shortly after, a no-nonsense staffer who told them precisely what was going to happen. They were bussed to a hotel and put up awaiting the departure of the flight this morning following Dublin re-opening at 8am.
That's all it take, folks. A little respect for the customer and a little sensible decision making and communication. We all understand flights are delayed and cancelled - what's making everyone so riled up is being treated like mushrooms.
It seems to me that airlines can do some very simple things to ameliorate this type of incident:
1) Cut websites over to dedicated informational sites right away.
2) Suspend new ticket sales immediately, at least for the immediate future (say, 5 days).
3) Operate sensible Twitter accounts (Twitter has really come into its own through this whole incident, most major airports have accounts and airlines have started directing customers to Twitter too. As a real-time informational tool, it can hardly be bettered. But it's a TWO way street, people).
4) Open up rebooking facilities online to passengers. Build a rules based system for rebooking and, where necessary, endorsing tickets across to other airlines. This facility could be built on a 'dark site' basis, and brought into play only when there is major disruption. If your call centre people can deal with this screens, I think we can - don't you?
5) Now you've got the majority of people off your call centre's backs, you can dedicate it to handling the exceptional requirements of people in trouble, not just the everyday business of rebooking and finding out what's going on.
It seems so simple to me. Am I missing something? Or are the airlines?
Anyway, with the (fingers crossed) anticipated arrival of our belated guests and a million things to do before Christmas, it might go a little quiet around here so you'll just have to amuse yourselves...