Piers Morgan stirred the pot this week when he resorted to Twitter to vent his frustration about a delayed and ultimately aborted Delta Air Lines flight he was taking from New York to Minneapolis to judge America's Got Talent auditions.
The CNN chat-show host regaled his 470,000 Twitter followers with 46 tweets over the course of the unfortunate day, plunging Delta into a communications maelstrom that is becoming increasingly common but is also very difficult to meet.
By the end his tone was blunt and to the point: “My plane was 50 mins from landing in Minneapolis when it turned around and is now heading back to NY,” “Delta, what the **** is going on,” “Delta stands for don't ever leave the airport,” and “What an absolute bloody joke. Be ashamed Delta. This is shocking even by your standards.”
I'm sure we've all been in similar situations to Morgan – it engenders a unique feeling of powerlessness. I had my own travel nightmare just before the holidays in 2010, when my Virgin Atlantic Airways flight to the UK was diverted to Hannover in Germany due to Heathrow being snowed in, and turned into an unscheduled three-day hiatus.
Virgin initially dealt with this unforeseen situation well, booking all the passengers into a hotel (which, let's face it, is better than sleeping on the floor of an airport). But after a third day of virtually no communication from Virgin, except a series of notes posted in hotel lobbies about flight cancellations, people got very restless.
Eventually, everyone was bussed to the airport at 10am but not flown out until 1am the next morning, after a series of de-icing processes that sounded very similar to Morgan's description of his Delta experience. At one point during this long day I too resorted to Twitter to try and prompt some action from Virgin's people, but my few hundred followers clearly don't have the same clout as Morgan's hundreds of thousands.
Responding to the Morgan situation, Delta's spokeswoman said the airline staffs its own Twitter account by top people 24 hours a day, and that the carrier was quick to apologize when it learned there were problems. But that's cold comfort to the tired, frustrated traveler who just wants to know what's going on.
The irony is that every airline does have a team present at all these incidents: the cabin crew. The mantra they usually parrot in these situations is the “we know nothing more than you” line. But when myself and a few fellow travelers happened upon our crew frolicking at Hannover's Christmas Fair, we couldn't help but think they'd be better off deployed as on-the-ground communications consultants (fully trained up first of course), rather than playing the tourist – and I'm sure Piers Morgan felt the same too.
Many of my fellow passengers vowed never to fly Virgin again, and Morgan threatened to boycott Delta from now on. Cabin crew should morph into PR and communications mode until a crisis is over to help avoid and alleviate these bad feelings.