Travel companies get free pass on communications flubs

Keeping customers informed is key

There’s no incentive for transportation companies to make much of an effort with customer relations. Hence, passengers are too often treated like garbage.

Travelers need a way to get where they are going — whether that’s via plane, train, or automobile. Sometimes they have no choice and are forced to use whatever is available. Other times, they just want to use the cheapest option or quickest route.

Look at United Airlines: Last year, boycotts followed a passenger being violently dragged off a plane, but the incident did not affect its bottom line. That same month, the airline said it carried 12 million passengers, an increase of 7.6% compared with the previous April.

In what other industry would that happen? Each day, social media is filled with complaints from New York City subway riders who are late for work due to a delay, with an unsatisfactory explanation from the MTA. Dini von Mueffling, founder and CEO of the eponymous PR firm, told me the poor state of the subway has been the norm for so long that many commuters are "no longer up in arms."

Recently, I was on a Greyhound bus that hit the side of a garage, causing all its windows to smash, showering passengers, seats, and bags with glass particles.

No apology was offered and no time scale for when the replacement bus would arrive. I called the helpline and no one could tell me anything. In the end, those of us who didn’t go to the hospital got to our destination four hours late.

No one got refunds and there was no apology from the company. Many passengers said resignedly, "It is what it is."

But maybe things are starting to change. New York subway ridership fell during the first five months of this year, by 2%, perhaps showing people are opting for ride-hailing services such as Uber instead.

It goes back to comms 101: Talk to your customers. Keep them in the loop. Even if a situation cannot be solved immediately, just knowing what is happening will bring the level of anger down a notch.

The transportation industry has a captive audience, something brands in other sectors would kill for. It’s a shame companies are letting that go to waste.

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