Lesson from United partner ANA on handling flight delays

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On a recent mileage run to Asia, I flew from Beijing to Tokyo on United Star Alliance partner ANA.  The flight was delayed by two hours, and we sat on the plane parked at the gate the whole time.  It’s a terrible situation to be in, of course.  However, there’s one thing that at least for me makes it a bit better: knowing what’s going on.  A lot of times in this situation, 30 minutes, 1 hour… will pass and the crew says nothing to passengers.  This, in my opinion, adds to the frustration that the customers are already feeling.  In contrast, ANA handled this delay masterfully.

To begin with, the flight attendants were just so friendly.  It’s a beautiful feeling when you don’t feel treated any differently regardless of class of service.  Here’s a rough timeline of the delay:

0:05 before scheduled departure – flight delayed 15 minutes because a customer who had checked their bag in was no longer flying so they were getting his bag from down below.

0:25 after scheduled departure – plane ready for push back and departure.

0:30 after scheduled departure – air traffic control delay.

2:15 after scheduled departure – flight departs.

On one hand I was very annoyed that if it wasn’t for that one passenger who didn’t get on the flight, we probably would’ve made it out on time.  I had a 3-hr connection in Narita, and so did several more in the plane, so you could feel the tension.  On the other hand, however, if I’m the one not taking the flight, then I appreciate the airline holding the flight for 5-10 minutes to get my bag out.  I got over that one quickly.

What really struck me here though, was how the flight attendants communicated often with the cabin.  Regardless of whether it was to say the same thing (“we’re still waiting for clearance…sorry for this inconvenience”), it definitely made me feel better to know to the minute what was going on.  I could see from my seat when the cockpit rang them for updates every 5-7 minutes, as I timed it.  And every 5-7 minutes they would brief the cabin.  When we can see the FA’s getting on the phone with the cockpit, or hear the phone ring (which sounds more like when you push the FA call button), we’re naturally in expectation of an announcement.  When that doesn’t happen, tension builds.

In conclusion, I had yet to be on an airline as ‘extreme’ about keeping the cabin informed to the minute.  I don’t know if this was more of an FA crew thing, rather than an airline thing.  The point is that I liked it and would like the same treatment when I find myself in this situation again.  So this is a lesson for any airline caught in a delay with passengers sitting in the plane: keep the passengers up to speed with what you know.  This might help to defuse future unpleasant situations.

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