Lessons In Marketing/PR From The Airline Industry

My flight Monday morning wasn’t delayed – it was all-out canceled

This week, I’m flying to New York and then Chicago for a client.  Monday I woke up extra early and made my way to the airport two hours prior to my flight, as I knew that there had been reports of chaos for travelers this summer. 

Checked my bags, (in hindsight a big mistake, don’t do this if you can help it) made it through security and then sat down for a breakfast and coffee.

Went to my gate after breakfast and had a seat adjacent to the boarding area where I started writing an article for this site (you’ll see that one eventually).  Anyway, all of a sudden, the board lit up saying my flight to LaGuardia been delayed. 

Fine, I can deal with delayed, I understand that prepping an aircraft and getting things organized for flight is something that takes time.  Or, perhaps my plane simply wasn’t in yet and delayed at its previous destination.  I get it; being exactly on time isn’t something that they can guarantee 100% to be on time, we’re human. 

Terrible, unclear communication to passengers

After about 30 minutes of being delayed, passengers becoming upset, and no one having any answers or idea what our situation was, a woman came on the speaker to simply announce “Flight 782 to LaGuardia has been canceled.”  That’s it – nothing at all to even announce during those 30 minutes of delay to consider making other arrangements or any updates that they are working on the situation or a solution.  Customer service was essentially nonexistent.

Now, you’d think at this point they would make some kind of attempt to reconcile the lives of these 100 or so people who were destined for LaGuardia – nope, none at all.  I was feeling pretty helpless and at the mercy of this airline (JetBlue, by the way) who didn’t have any plan at all for what to do with these passengers that they forgot to have a working plane for (oops!). 

Complete disorganization, chaos in the terminal

At this point, a panicked line of upset people formed at the adjacent gate, where the JetBlue staff was attempting to place passengers on other flights.  There was one person helping a line which snaked all the way back to the next gate, and each person was asking the same questions and slowly weighing the options presented to them – whether they should fly into JFK at 1, chance running across the terminal to get a flight to Newark in 15 minutes, or wait until the next LaGuardia flight at 6pm. 

The original flight was leaving at 9:35 a.m. – that’s quite a wait – and they couldn’t even guarantee spots on the 6 pm flight for everyone.  Also, it took about 5 minutes to key in each person’s switch, an incredible amount of time when alternative flights were departing shortly.

I shouldn’t have to be lucky to actually make it to my destination

Lucky enough for me, I noticed a flight to White Plains heading out in 5 minutes from a gate next to ours and ran over there to quickly ask if they could switch me to that flight.  A few others had done the same, and about 10 of us made it.  They even claimed to have swapped our luggage (I’m writing this in flight, hopefully when I land I can edit this to say yes, in fact they did bring my luggage).  By some miracle, they were able to pull my luggage onto this flight. 

We found out our original flight was canceled due to mechanical failure on the plane – so of course we can’t use that plane, but why would they wait until immediately prior to boarding to identify that malfunction?    

If malfunctions happen unexpectedly – perhaps they should have a backup jet or at least some kind of backup plan for the passengers that have spent time in advance to coordinate travel schedules, arrangements and appointments at their destination. 

It was also unfair to make paying customers figure things out for themselves.  I’m fine with being transferred to another plane, but there was essentially no attempt of them to do this for us or organize the passengers to ensure they’d reach their destination in a timely manner.  It definitely felt like we were abandoned and left on our own (and we were).

It just seems unbelievable to me that an industry this old can simply cancel a flight and pretty much leave paying customers to fend for themselves.  Think how fast you would lose your clients and customers if you did this.  No other industry could survive with customer service so nonexistent

So I’m mid-flight, and (pardon my lack of geography) I’m not even sure exactly where White Plains, New York is on a map (it turned out to be about 60 minutes out of Manhattan.)  JetBlue should be forced to pay for my travel into the city – but since they can’t even seem to get me to my destination using their own plane, I doubt they will accommodate external transportation.

Lessons for your business, no matter what it is

Leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth, and they may never use your services/products again 

I’m flying the rest of my trip on Jetblue, that’s already booked, and even if all the rest of my flights are perfect and on time, I will think long and hard before I book them again.  I know, I know – all the airlines are this way – but if in your industry everyone is known for poor service, an easy way to be the standout is to be a step above the rest.  Go above and beyond to ensure everyone using your product is satisfied.  I know perfection may be “impossible” (I use that in quotes, because I don’t believe that is impossible) but at the least be there to help your paying customers.

Frustrated/upset people are far more likely to talk about your business than happy people

The fact that I’m writing this blog post proves this.  I travel/fly frequently and I have never written about my experiences – probably because they were all completely neutral.  If one of them was exceptional, I might write on it.  The fact that this one was chaotic almost guaranteed I would write about it.  There’s some rule that for every bad experience people tell 10 friends and for every good experience people tell 2 (or something close to that).  Lots of truth to this.  Again, customer service could have gone a long way to prevent this bad PR – I am sure passengers that didn’t make it to New York on Monday are even more livid than I am. 

If you make mistakes, have a plan and help your customers achieve satisfaction

This is the part that irks me the most.  There was absolutely no plan with what they were going to do with the stranded passengers from the canceled flight.  None.  Fitting them on other flights could absolutely be a plan, but it wasn’t here. 

They were in no way, shape or form organized to do that quickly (as some of the flights were leaving immediately).  There was no protocol here at all and it was just a giant mass of confusion between everyone.  No management in charge, no one took control of the situation at all.  This is a dangerous situation for any business and enough experiences like this can destroy a company’s reputation. 

The negative experiences associated with the airline industry may be unique, in that not many other industries could have such gaping flaws and still exist.  However, there are still strong lessons for your brand/product/service/blog here.  Be responsive, have plans, and always deliver your product to paying and potentially loyal customers no matter what.  Identify potential flaws early, and if for whatever reason you can’t deliver, respect your customers and let them know ASAP along with next steps. 

I felt like they just didn’t respect me or my time, and that’s unfortunate because they have had negative PR in the past.  Apparently they still have a long way to go.  Don’t let your brand fall into these traps.