Airlines Learning the Art of “Sorry.”

Maybe this scenario sounds familiar. You’ve just finished your airplane food lunch. Not bad, particularly since you’re on an international flight and the wine is free. Then, just when you’re halfway into the first movie, the pilot comes on and says, “We’re sorry, but the plane has lost an engine and we’re heading to ____ (fill in the blank.) You wipe your mouth on your napkin giving yourself time to regroup while you realize that it doesn’t look like you’ll be waking up where you thought you might. Instead, you find yourself being held over somewhere with meal vouchers and a place to stay. You’ll be equipped with a tiny toothbrush and toothpaste, but not a change of clothes. Yes, you’ll be sleeping in the clothes you’ve been wearing all day, in your underwear, or in nothing.

This has happened to me three times. Each time on a flight that left LAX in Los Angeles. Once I ended up in Seoul, Korea on an unplanned overnight. The second time was a dreadful experience. After taking off on a noon flight to Singapore, we ended up back at LAX by 10:30 that night after being diverted to San Francisco. The thirty of us at the end of the rebooking line, after 6 hours of waiting, were told all the hotels in San Francisco were now full. If we wanted a room on the airline’s dime we needed to return to LA. The next day, on the 12 noon flight, it was the same food and the same movie, as if, the airline was trying to pretend that the day before hadn’t happened. Since I was wearing the same clothes, they might have fooled me, but I know what clothes smell like when I wear them two days in a row.

The third time was not too shabby. On our way to Taiwan, we had a two day layover in Honolulu. Northwest put us up at the Waikiki Sheraton in a room overlooking the ocean with plenty of phone cards, great meals and communication about what was happening and why. I still happily fly Northwest.

Lately, many airlines are learning the art of apology does make a difference. A recent article mentioned Southwest Airlines as being the best at saying I’m sorry. One guy’s job is to do just that. It helps keeps customers happy and coming back when a flight doesn’t go as planned.