CRJ200 Airline Pilot

The personal experiences, thoughts of an CRJ captain


5 Things To Do When A Flight Is Delayed

Posted by Jeffrey on October 27, 2008

The other day could have been a mess! During pushback we started the engines and when the electrical system switched power from the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) to the Main Engine Generators there was a hiccup. Ding! A single-chime Master Caution and the associated caution message appeared on PFD1.

Other than canceling the alarm, what do you think was one of the first things that I did? If you guessed that I communicated with my first officer, talked to the passengers and the flight attendant, and then set to work fixing the problem, you would be right.

Communicating was my highest priority in a situation like that. All in all, it took about 20 minutes to sort the problem out and then we were on our way. In that time I made two announcements; one to tell my passengers explaining what the problem was and another to tell them we had sorted out the situation and update them our arrival time would be in LAX. Everyone was happy…happy enough anyway!

On another occasion, we pushed back from the gate in Cincinnati (CVG) and we were issued an EDCT time to Chicago (ORD). We parked the airplane on a taxiway and then waited…and waited…and waited. THEN, about the time we were going to start up our engines for departure, we were notified by ATC that our EDCT time was pushed back even further, so we decided to head back to the gate so that passengers could make other arrangements if they needed to. During this whole time, even when nothing had changed, I talked to my crew and the passengers often.

Again, although everyone was frustrated by the delay, they were appreciative for being kept informed.

Your Responsibility During a Delay

It is vitally important that the passengers know what is going on and it’s YOUR responsibility as the captain to tell them. Certainly some passengers aren’t going to care but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell them. Passengers these days expect everything to go seamlessly and hate being kept out of the loop when things don’t go right. And like it or not, we are in a service industry and customer service plays a BIGGER part in commercial aviation now more than ever before. So smile, even when it hurts!

If you will, think about a personal experience when you went somewhere that required service, like a restaurant or department store. How was the customer service? Did the waiter talk to you? If your food was running a little slow, did the waiter let you know? How did you feel during this “waiting” period? If you weren’t being kept informed, you were probably getting agitated and you stopped enjoying yourself. On the other hand, if you were being kept informed, you probably felt much more relaxed.

It’s all part of customer service and it affects either the positive or negative image that that passengers has of that particular flight and of your airline.

In a flight delay situations, it’s not just the captain’s responsibility to keep the passengers informed. You have a crew and communication with them is essential as well. By briefing your crew regarding what you want them to do if a flight is delayed keeps your team informed and empowers them to do a good customer service job as well.

How Do You Make An Announcement

“Mic Fright” is one of the scariest things in the world for a lot of people. When you talk on the PA do you sound like loser, hemming and hawing, using “uhs” and “ums” as you work your way through the announcement or do you display poise and confidence? Do you prepare your announcement before you start to speak? Right before I make my announcement, I turn of the flight deck speakers, take a deep breath and r-e-l-a-x. This allows me to focus on what I’m about to say. My goal is to come across in such a way that the passengers will listen to what I’m saying.

If you have to talk on the PA, first, do it quickly and decisively with a strong voice and the tone of authority. A wimpy sounding captain is like a wimpy handshake, no body likes them. Be succinct, precise, and empathetic when you make your announcements because it helps to calm your passengers. Now is not the time to sound exasperated by the situation, vent your frustrations, or put down the “system.”

And, if the opportunity presents itself, use the flight attendants PA and talk directly to the passengers. It’s amazing how responsive your passengers will be if you take this little extra step.

How Often Should You Make An Announcement

I believe PA announcements to passengers should be done about every 15 to 20 minutes, but obviously it depends on the situation. Sometimes I start out at 15 minutes, then my next announcement is at 20 minutes, and then my next announcement is at 25 minutes. I rarely stay on the taxiway for more than hour, so this works out fairly well. Too many announcements can be too much of a good thing.

Five Things to Consider

Here is my list of five things you can do if you experience a delay and need to make an announcement:

  1. Communicate with your crew and passengers in a timely manner
  2. Use an authoritative voice absent of frustration
  3. Take a moment to mentally prepare your announcement in your head, then, take a deep breath right before you start
  4. Be succinct, precise, and empathetic as you say your announcement remembering who your audience is and what they are going through
  5. Cut out the the hemming and hawing and “uhs” and “ums,” they are very distracting

As always this is a my list and I’m sure you can add a few more important items. I would like to hear your suggestions.

One final thought. Remember, as the captain you are responsible for your airplane, crew, and passengers. This includes more than flying profile and conserving fuel, it includes making sure that your passengers have a good experience during their flight and one way to do that is to make sure you communicate with them in a timely manner if something doesn’t goes as planned.

As always, I’d love to hear any thoughts you may have on this or any of the topics. Till next time…

P.S. As always I like to include one book to help you become a better captain. This book, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High is easy to read and has some very useful ideas that you may not have thought about before when you are dealing with passengers. Pick it up today so you can start benefiting from the insights presented in this book.

Other articles you might be interested in:


One Response to “5 Things To Do When A Flight Is Delayed”

  1. […] 5 Things To Do When A Flight Is Delayed […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: