Every business has its bad days, so it’s only fair to start by saying that Friday’s experience with KLM is my first bad experience of flying with them. My flight from Manchester to Toronto took me via Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, with the first leg of the journey having a flight time of about an hour, much of which was spent talking to a couple whose interesting lives took them into Iraq and Afghanistan, although on this occasion to the comparative safety of the Rugby Sevens in Dubai. After a quick and pleasant flight, I walked out into the main concourse of the airport to check my onward flight, and saw that it was to leave from Gate F6 at 13:25. I looked away momentarily for the usual paranoid double-check of my passport, driving license, wallet and other important documents, and when I looked back at the screen my flight to Toronto had been delayed until 16:00. As a seasoned traveller I am always suspicious of round numbers. For example, 16:12 would have made me feel that KLM/Delta was providing their passengers with up to date and accurate information. It’s a funny thing the human mind!
Then ‘voucher available’ appeared against the revised flight time and passengers were invited to go to the KLM desk to collect a €5.00 voucher to spend on food and drink. In the three minutes it took me to walk to the KLM desk, the flight time had changed again. Another round number, but this time two hours later than the first round number, with the flight now scheduled to leave at 18:00. By then, it was obvious that the company probably had no control over when the flight would finally leave, citing ‘technical reasons’ on which their ground staff were unable to elaborate. And all this probably meant that the ‘technical reasons’ were probably evident long before my first flight took off from Manchester, so I started to feel a bit sore and made my way to a food concession to spend my voucher, then to sit tweeting miserably about it for Schipohl’s 30 minutes of free wireless access time. I watched as two flights for Shanghai and Beijing respectively were boarded quickly and efficiently and without fuss or misinformation. And I sat and drew a picture of the scene before me, which included possibly the hairiest man I have ever seen in my life!
With the likely boarding time now being just after 17:00 I ambled down towards the gate for a change of scene at about 16:00, only to find that…you guessed it…the flight had been delayed by a further two hours to another rounded number, 20:00. Now eight hours stuck in an airport is nobody’s idea of fun, but when it is followed by a flight of eight hours or more, every ounce of humour leaves you. A firm but polite complaint achieved a further €10.00 food voucher, and a €50.00 discount from my next KLM flight, but I wanted to know what was the reason for the continuing delay, so made my way back to the desk where nobody was able to elaborate why the aircraft that had been umbilically connected to the air bridge at Gate F6 had by then been removed. ‘Technical reasons’ was all they could, or would, say.
Flight security and safety have to remain the paramount responsibilities for all airlines, so none of the passengers would have objected to a slice of honesty, such as ‘We are very sorry ladies & gentleman but the original aircraft that was going to take you to Toronto is experiencing serious technical problems therefore we are having to fly in a replacement’. That is clearly what was happening, so why not say so? Instead, we had the ‘technical reasons’ mantra, and progressively declining trust in KLM’s ground staff, and a loss of faith that our flight would eventually be allowed to leave that day. There were families with children, elderly people, and disabled people, whose pleas for an explanation and accurate time of departure were increasingly met with an eyes-down approach by weary KLM staff. For my part the delay would cause me to arrive at my hotel near Toronto Airport at around 23:00 instead of 16:00. I had a long drive to Owen Sound planned for early the next morning. Others had onward connections to flights to more distant parts of Canada.
So imagine a different scenario. An airline that on recognising they were going to have to fly in a different craft to fulfil a scheduled flight, provided an honest departure time and brief explanation of why, with maybe the option of a shuttle bus to more comfortable hotel surroundings, or maybe into the city for a few hours with rapid checking out and back in again. Far better than a few euros to spend on average, not very nutritious, and largely lukewarm airport concession food don’t you think? Hopefully by the time enough passengers put in claims for the ‘up to €600.00’ compensation that can be offered for such a day of disruption, airlines will begin to take a more pastoral and honest approach to the demands of their increasingly knowledgeable, well-travelled, and sophisticated customers. Then again, pigs might fly!