It’s all fun and games until someone’s flight is cancelled. Again. And again. And again.
Last Sunday, I began my journey from Bucharest to Dublin with a connecting flight in Amsterdam. As the Bucharest taxi driver approached the airport, he commented on the heavy raindrops landing on the windshield. “It’s supposed to get cold tonight. I’m sure this will turn to snow.” My reactionary thought was, “Glad I beat the storm.”
Not so fast, Tricia.
Weather patterns had already shifted by the time I boarded my flight to Amsterdam. We were on the tarmac for two hours, awaiting clearance to leave. The captain explained that there were weather delays in Amsterdam, but we had to board the plane in order to call in a “ready” status and be assigned a place in line. I knew I would miss my connecting fight, yet I remained confident that I would be rebooked quickly.
Again … not so fast.
I got off the plane in Amsterdam unaware that Schiphol Airport would be my home for the next three days. While I will avoid all of the details, I will say that it’s been a life lesson in how to pack and how to find gratitude when things don’t go well. By the next morning, I was feeling pretty frustrated until I saw a disabled man who was traveling alone and a young mom who was traveling with an infant and toddler. While life wasn’t perfect, I had it easier than other people.
On day two, I wandered through the airport, looking for personal hygiene items and clean clothes. There was one drugstore, tucked amongst the duty free shops, where I found toothpaste, a toothbrush, and some other essentials. Desperately wanting to change out of the clothes I’d been wearing for two days, I asked a sales clerk where I might find a place to buy clothes. She directed me to the Gucci and Burberry stores at the end of the terminal. Um … no. I did my best to freshen up in the rest rooms and avoided sleeping overnight, when mice ran through the terminals to search for food.
On day three, I was successfully assigned standby status for a flight that miraculously had an open seat. This was a rarity, as the 600+ flights that were cancelled throughout Europe left thousands of people stranded, and it resulted in full or overbooked flights for the next several days.
I did mention there were lessons learned, and I’ve explained how I felt some gratitude during my three-day stay (traveling alone; not with small kids). Other lessons would benefit airport management everywhere, communicators, and travelers.
Lessons for airport management: This blog isn’t the place for me to air all of my grievances to them, but be assured the management of Schiphol Airport will receive a letter that outlines my experiences, observations, and recommendations.
Lessons for communicators: Part of your job is understanding people’s wants and needs, then responding appropriately. One of the biggest lessons for a communicator in this situation is to recognize that the thousands of people who were stranded – in spite of their frustration, misery, and impatience – are a huge source of information for you. How could their experience have been changed for the better? Knowing that travelers will be stranded from time to time, what can you as a communicator/marketer do to make their lives easier or more comfortable?
Also, communications and marketing isn’t just about sharing what IS. It’s considering what COULD BE. Is a root problem of customer frustration something that you can identify and recommend changing? By changing the experience, you change the message that you send and people share. It’s important.
Your changes could be simple ones with a huge impact. For example, can the young mother find diapers and baby food for her infant? (Remember that checked bags were unavailable to us, and we stayed two or three days longer than anticipated.) Is it easy to find personal hygiene items? Can passengers without luggage find non-designer-label shirts for less than $400?
Lessons for travelers: Be prepared for delays, and pack your carry-on bag appropriately. Always. Choose a carry-on bag that is small enough to fit under an airline seat, so you don’t risk having the bag gate checked as you board. Here is my recommended packing list for the carry-on bag (I’d love to hear your recommendations as well):
- At least one change of clothes
- Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, comb/brush, face wash, moist wipes to freshen up in a rest room if necessary, hand sanitizer, razor, tissues, breath mints, etc.)
- Any prescription or over the counter medications you regularly take
- Universal travel adapter (if traveling internationally; don’t just bring an adapter for the countries you plan to visit … I didn’t plan to be in Amsterdam for three days)
- Power bank and charging cords for your phone
- Prescription eyeglasses or extra contact lenses/solution
- Travel pillow and/or blanket
- Reusable water bottle
- Ear buds or headphones that don’t require power to work
- Books or other entertainment that doesn’t require power (word search books, puzzles, playing cards)
This is a recommended list for adults traveling alone by air. If you’re with someone who has special needs (such as an infant, elderly companion or someone with specific medical requirements), add to the list accordingly. If you’re traveling by car, you’ll want to ensure that you have a road safety kit, first aid kit, small shovel (for snow removal), sand or kitty litter (for tire traction, if needed), blankets, and water.
The other lesson that was evident (yet something I already knew) is one that I’ll attribute to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: There’s no place like home.
Safe travels to all of you readers who are traveling this holiday season!
Photo credit: Tricia Richards-Service (Note: there is a jet in that picture. You just can’t see it through the whiteout conditions.)
Tricia Richards-Service is an adjunct faculty member of the Communication Arts Department at Marywood University and a doctoral candidate in health promotion. A 2017-2018 Fulbright-Schuman student research grantee, she is now in Europe, where she is conducting research on breast cancer in Ireland and Romania.