Friday, December 12, 2014

Why can't I? Ch 3

"You can cancel the main for 8D.  He's calling it a night.", Scott said as he rounded the corner into the galley.  8E had long since withdrawn from the service and surrendered to slumber, now that all of the drama and uncertainty of our rolling delay and aircraft swap were behind us.  At this point, their holiday plans were hinging on whether or not Captain Hill could make good on his promise to "fly the paint off of this bird" and get us to AMS quickly.

Our 1545 scheduled departure had morphed into an actual time of 1815; significantly tardy but well done, all things considered.  The not-knowing is what really ramps up anxieties:  can we/can't we, will we/won't we, should we/shouldn't we.  Of course, anxiety therapy is the REAL job of the 21st century airline professional.  Our marketing department is quite successful in raising our customers' expectations to spectacularly unrealistic heights.  Then we, in the operation, are tasked with tempering and managing those expectations, in light of the realities of machinery, weather, political instability, global terrorism, etc.

How do cogent, successful human beings become so detached from reality anyway?  Are we really so susceptible to the outrageousness of hype?  We WANT to believe that the implausible is possible.

At breakfast time, the atmosphere in the cabin was perceptibly "lighter".  Captain Hill was able to fulfill his speed commitment and it looked as though we would be arriving at 0915lcl, only about an hour past our scheduled arrival.  After service, when everything was buttoned up for landing, I put on my jacket to say good-bye to our guests.

"It was our pleasure to serve you today.  I hope that everything was satisfactory and that we'll see you again soon.  Thank you for flying UNITED."  The folks seldom have much to say after the short night's rest but feedback this morning was positive.  "Nice job."  "This could have been so much worse."  "Wow, how did we make up so much time?"

When I arrived at row 8, I wasn't sure what to expect.  Both D and E had been unconscious most of the flight. Now was the time for the opera anxiety to ramp up again, in light of their planned connection.  8D was smiling and gracious, as one might expect.  But, other than when expressing outright anger, 8E has one of those "neutral" faces that is almost impossible to read.  Who knew what was going on behind those intense eyes?

"Gentlemen, have you consulted about our progress?"  8D, "Yes.  It's almost unbelievable that we're only an hour late.  It looks like we might make it to VIE in time, after all."  "Wonderful.  I'm sure that our GS Representatives in AMS will be waiting for you.  Thanks for your patience and thanks so much for continuing to choose UNITED."

8E, "I wasn't confident in our chances.  You guys really pulled it off tonight.  I want to apologize..." as he extended his hand.  "Mr 8E, I certainly understand.  I didn't take it personally.  Your plans were aggressive; maybe too aggressive.  But it looks like you'll be able to enjoy Der Rozenkavalier, as planned."

A light conversation about the plans that Philip and I had made ensued.  We landed.  Rene, our top-notch GS Rep in AMS took over and, I assume, they all lived happily ever after.  I haven't heard anything to the contrary.

Philip and I did NOT get to Lohengrin, as we'd planned.  Oh well, it's the nature of the business, isn't it?  Instead, we enjoyed a nice supper at a favorite Asian restaurant and a nice stroll, ending up at Grand Hotel Amrath-Amsterdam, an Art Nouveau confection of a building whose history is as fascinating as its architecture and decoration.  But that's another chapter...

In retrospect, as disastrous as this overall scenario must sound, the pieces of the operations puzzle seemed to come together as designed:

Issue:  Rolling delay over a seemingly minor MX issue.  Resolution:  Timely, calming, informative announcements and appropriate crew presence in the cabin allay growing anxiety.

Issue:  MX issue unresolvable.  Resolution:  Replacement aircraft available and ready for crew and customers, already cleaned.  Re-catering accomplished in a timely and competent manner.

Issue:  Customer uncertainty and anxiety.  Resolution:  Again, the announcements were of great help.  Each department handled its component of the irregularity efficiently and in a customer-friendly way.  Both aircraft were WiFi-equipped, so customers could track our progress inflight in real time.

Issue:  Unreasonable expectations (our stock-and-trade)  Resolution:  Calm, confidence, poise, tact and timing.

The End?

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