Of course airlines have no control over the eruption of a volcano, or the direction winds blow its hazardous ash cloud. Yet it is their response to a situation that has been months in the making – and is by no means a first – that has left customers feeling hot under the collar.
Some passengers have praised affected airlines for proactively communicating flight cancellations.
“Just wanted to thank Jetstar [sic] for their prompt and efficient service. I was supposed to fly to Denpasar from perth [sic] this afternoon. Text and email received early this morning. I’ve chosen to get a credit voucher to use in the new year. Thanks!” one happy customer wrote on Jetstar’s Facebook page.
However, response from the airline appears to be far from universal. Other passengers have been highly critical, suggesting their airline has left them in the dark, causing considerable anger and confusion.
“I have not received an email to tell me, I just spoke to two different agents online and they said my flight was not cancelled only delayed...” wrote another.
A third wrote: “Your call centre is telling my teenage daughter and her friends that their 5.45 from SYD flight is green light. We have a 2.5 hour trip to airport. Some non-conflicting info would be timely around about now.”
It was the same from Virgin Australia customers. While the airline posted a statement on its social media accounts saying that: “Guests with changes to their flight schedule will be contacted directly by SMS and email”, many passengers said they failed to receive any contact from the airline.
“We were meant to fly out last night o[n] VA43, the one you cancelled as we were about to board. What happened to our SMS or email updates? You took everyone’s down at the airport then sent us all away, telling us you’d keep us up to date, in the end it was only after talking to your call centre at 5am did we learn,” one user wrote on that airline’s Facebook page.
When My Business looked at its Facebook page, Qantas did not appear to have any statement visible, other than being tagged in other posts outlining the situation.
However, My Business heard about an Australian Qantas passenger scheduled to fly back from Bali tonight (Monday 27 November - the day flight cancellations were announced), who similarly had not had any contact from the airline, and as such was struggling to determine their plan B.
The situation highlights some of the most fundamental elements of customer service – the importance of delivering on your promises, having contingency plans in place for when disaster strikes, and always communicating with customers should something beyond your control affect your ability to service them.
For the most part, customers understand that some things are beyond the control of a business, but it is always how you deal with disturbances – rather than the disturbance itself – that will determine whether you maintain or lose their custom.