The Art Of Storytelling: Airline-style

Question: When is an hour not an hour?
Answer: When it’s a delay on a scheduled flight…

Another delayed flight gave me cause to ponder on just how the airlines have perfected the art of storytelling – helping to shield their passengers from the unfortunate truth.

Let’s take tonight’s flight as an example…

1 hour beforehand: The flight is delayed by 20 minutes. No biggie, I’m already enjoying coffee at the airport with a client, so we wrap up and I head into the labyrinth at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. I’d even received an SMS from the airline – so I’m feeling good about a “little” 20-minute delay. I’m already checked in and don’t have baggage, so onwards to the gate – which, incidentally, seems to be at totally the other end of the airport.

At the gate: Sure enough, around 20 minutes later than scheduled, i.e., around the advertised actual flight time, passengers are invited to board. The eager ones spring forwards – to get the first seats on … the bus to drive out to the remote corner of the airfield where the plane is located. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m still in The Netherlands … as the last passenger climbs aboard and the gate is “closed”, so the hapless passengers are advised of a further delay of “20 minutes” because of passengers joining from a connecting flight that’s delayed in arriving. Ha! You’re trapped – passengers are past the point of no-return and there’s nothing anyone can do …

At the plane: The bus takes what seems like the scenic route and finally arrives at the plane – but the bus doors remain firmly sealed – “for security reasons”. The airlines’ favorite phrase of all. Eventually one of the crew gives the bus driver the thumbs up, the doors open, and passengers jockey to get on to the stairs to board … well, that delay wasn’t too bad, we’re moving now …

Once everyone’s on the plane: The Captain: “I’m advising you that we are going to have to wait for about another 20 minutes – because we’re waiting on 30 additional passengers on a delayed flight from Japan and the airline has decided to wait for them. You’d of course be grateful if it were your connection.” What he means: “The next and final flight out to Munich tonight is full and we don’t want to put up 30 guests in a hotel overnight – never mind about their luggage making the connection.”

He continues: “We’ll try and make up as much time as we can in the air.” What he means: In reality, on a flight time of one hour, the best he can do is make up 5 minutes or so … But there’s some consolation – the hostesses serve a watery orange juice to all passengers.

15 minutes later, the Captain: “I’m afraid the delay has increased by another 10 minutes but we’ll be on our way as soon as possible.” By now, the reported delay is 50 minutes. But passengers are offered a chocolate biscuit (one each!) to make themselves feel better.

20 minutes later, the delayed travelers join the plane, everyone buckles up, taxiing and take-off are relatively fast …

During the flight: The Captain: “We’re going to arrive around an hour behind schedule… our apologies.” – so that promise of catching up has really borne fruit, ha ha.

Shortly before the Fasten Seatbelts sign gets switched on, the Captain is back again: “Well, we had taken a direct route from Amsterdam but now the air traffic controllers have routed us into a turn and then an approach from the west … so we’ll be landing in 18 minutes.” Note the 18 minutes, it sounds so precise that it MUST be right … right? Wrong. The plane eventually lands 26 minutes later – but at 18 minutes past the hour.

Really, this isn’t very honest – and all the airlines that I’ve ever flown with are equally guilty – hence no need to name my carrier this evening.

I’ll be listening out on future flights for more of these weaselly little phrases that the airlines use to make an hour disappear.  You’re also welcome to share your favorites…

Simon JonesOnPR GmbH – Munich

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