This is what happens when we get so stupid we pay more attention to all our rules and policies than to care of fellow human beings.
Passengers stuck on plane were ready to riot. Yeah, I'll bet they were.
- First, fog prevented landing at Sea-Tac. Bad break. No one's fault.
- Low on fuel, the flight was diverted to Moses Lake, where it landed. This is where it started to go wrong.
- Of course, the Moses Lake airport isn't equipped to handle international arrivals. Passengers were told to wait inside the plane because they couldn't be "processed." Customs agency's fault.
- At the same time, Northwest had to fly in a relief crew to comply with federal regulations on amount of consecutive work hours. Of course, mechanical problems delayed their arrival. Northwest's fault.
- Everybody's out of food -- including babies on board. Someone got a clue and brought in pizza and sodas, but of course only after petty tyrants put the food through the security scanners.
- Finally, another clue-finder brought out some deputies to get the airport into compliance with the rules. Yay for clues. Folks finally got off the plane before boarding another one to Seattle, of course after a weather delay.
What Northwest said: "We regret any customer inconveniences." WHAT? Is that the best you can do? Treat these people like people, not like you're an automaton.
What Northwest should have said: "My God, what a terrible day for these people. Sometimes the rules play bad tricks on us, and worse, during the holidays. We're so sorry this happened and we're going to take care of the problem as best we can. We're starting with a free ticket anywhere Northwest flies around the world, not just the US or Canada, and here are some movie theater passes and how about some phone cards too?"
Customs spokesman Mike Milne said passengers were kept on board to ensure security and follow the law. "We're not doing it to be mean."
What Mike Milne should have said: "We're so sorry this happened to all these folks, especially around the holidays. Holy cats, what a mess. You know, this is a good opportunity to make sure when we have weather or airline problems, we have ways to handle the situation without making everyone miserable. Air travel is hard enough, don't you think?"
What Customs could have done: Anything that a human being would have appreciated. Getting deputies out there on the double. Helping folks off the plane. Having a car rental company kick in a car for the day and letting one of the passengers take up a collection for a grocery store run to share diapers, food, baby supplies, and fresh water with the other passengers. Anything. Anything other than ignoring customers and paying attention only to the rule book.
I was once on a Northwest flight that was delayed for an hour and fifteen minutes while the crew waited for one of the ground staff to deliver them their dinner. I'm not kidding.
What about you? When you execute on behalf of your customers, are you paying more attention to what they want out of the situation, or are you fixated on "that's our policy."?
By the way, why is this categorized in Marcom? Because the way you treat people, what you say to them, and how an unfortunate set of events are handled (and later reflected in the press) are all relations with your publics (known also as "public relations").