Monday, January 10, 2011

Cathay Pacific: A Communications Report Card

Note: My assessments in this blog are based on facts reported to me by a Makovsky employee who took flight # 888 from Vancouver to New York City on the day after Christmas and was trapped on the JFK tarmac for 11 hours, from 2:30 AM to 1:30 PM due to the blizzard of 2010. The frustrating delay was also documented by CNN.

Before Take-Off: Boarding at 1 AM after a scheduled 10 PM take-off. “We were immediately told there would be another delay as soon as we were seated, but we sat on the plane until 4 AM—3 hours--- without any further communications. Then at 4 AM we were told that JFK was closed due to weather conditions, and we were taken off the plane.” GRADE: D-/ Comment: The pilot might have provided weather updates every half hour to prepare the passengers for the gravity of the situation in New York.

Take-Off: “At 4 PM on 12/27 we re-boarded the plane and took off for NYC. The pilot informed us that the blizzard was over, visibility was good, but that the conditions on the roads and runways in New York were a challenge.” GRADE: C-/ Comment: The pilot might have added: “Therefore, we could be sitting on the tarmac for quite a while once we arrive in NYC.” Further, why was the plane cleared for take-off when the post- landing outlook was so questionable? Of course, that decision might have been made by the control tower.

Landing: Arrival at 2:30 AM. “We were informed that many planes were ahead of us to de-board or land and one already had been waiting for 7 hours to de-board. The pilot apologized for the delay and said it was beyond the airline’s control. At 4 AM the news came that ‘we do not know when we will be able to de-board.’” GRADE: B-/ Comment: Perhaps the pilot might have provided a bit more info on why things were out of control, so passengers could have better understood the predicament.

Sitting on the Tarmac: “After many hours on the tarmac, the pilot finally announced that there were only 4 terminals open, and due to the snow, there was minimal staff both at the airport and in immigration. They also ran out of food, but there was never any official announcement about it. Passengers were told individually, as they made requests. “From what I recall, during the entire 11 hour ordeal, there might have been 3 or 4 pilot updates, with the pilot saying, each time, that he had no idea how much longer it would be, as the delay was out of his control.” GRADE: D-/Comment: After the Jet Blue ordeal of a couple years ago, you’d think airlines would carry sufficient food to take care of such unexpected situations, and in this case, the airline knew the potential situation in advance. Warm status reports hourly providing more technical information and one of the pilots walking the aisles talking with the passengers might have boosted passenger morale.

De-Boarding: “The pilot announced that we could de-board but that bags would not be unloaded right away, and there was no indication when that would happen. A flight attendant offered a phone number and website, should passengers want to complain about the flight. GRADE: F / Comment: A flight rep should have been at the exit individually apologizing to each passenger. A process should have been announced for baggage retrieval.

The Aftermath: “I got my luggage 6 days after the flight landed, after calling 5 different people to have someone hand deliver my bags. Cathay Pacific made no effort to communicate with us in terms of when we’d receive our luggage. Although I hear they are working out some sort of compensation package, I have heard nothing from them directly.” GRADE: F/Comment: Why couldn’t emails or text messages have been sent to update passengers on the status of their luggage?

OVERALL GRADE: D- / Comment: In the airline business, a crisis communications/business plan is as fundamental as customer service. Cathay Pacific, an award-winning airline, obviously did not have one. How does that sit with your desire to fly with this airline?

Technorati Tags: Cathay Pacific, JFK, crisis, communications, public relations, Makovsky


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