Communication is the heart of all human endeavour.

Airport Debacle: Give us the info or we’ll make up worse

In Uncategorized on March 18, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Really, use the the damn PA. Don’t be shy. Tell us what’s going on.

That’s all we want. (Well, service would be nice.)

TORONTO, March 18, 2011 — In the greater scheme of things, we’re not talking about nuclear reactors melting down, or tidal waves or earth quakes, but there were some emotional meltdowns at Toronto’s Pearson Airport last night, and as with just about everything associated with air travel in Canada (Exception to rule – Porter Airlines), the ability of people in charge to demonstrate basic communication skills was pathetically lacking. They obfuscated, they lied, they accused their customers of lying, they blamed people for arriving at the airport on airplanes, and were otherwise generally unhelpful.

To recap, because of lousy planning, the Canada Border Services Agency wasn’t prepared to handle the volume of arriving passengers. As one wag in the crowd commented: “Gee, if only there was some kind of system or technology that could allow you to know how many planes were going to land at your airport.” If only.

I emerged from my arrival gate to find at least 2,000 people filling the upper concourse. Seeing this unusual sight, I asked a uniformed attendant what was going on. “It’s crowded,” she responded, with what I think was elegant understatement. That was the sum total of all the information that we great unwashed were ever given.

In a story in the Toronto Star http://bit.ly/goDQVK  a spokeswoman for the CBSA said longest wait time was 90 minutes. Anyone who said otherwise was lying. I was fortunate in that I only had to wait an hour, but on my arrival people ahead of me in the line said they had already been waiting 90 minutes. Based on the length of the line, it seemed like a credible statement.

The CBSA also said announcements were made over the public address system but they could not be heard over the din of the milling crowd. That’s odd. I heard announcements for several flights over the loudspeaker, but nary a word about what our plight would be. I did see dozens of people in uniforms with walkie-talkies, eyeing us nervously like we were shoplifters. Even in the absence of a working PA system, a message could have been shared.

With no information, crowded shoulder to shoulder, babies crying, the air heating up, you can imagine than the tempers of some in the crowd began to flare. (Why do tempers flare? Does anything else flare? Nostrils, I guess.)

I must correct myself because one uniformed official did go right into the heart of the angry mob and provide some very useful information. A gentleman in a janitorial services uniform pressed his way into the throng and explained: “I was told that a kid vomited back here. Has anyone seen some kid vomit? Look out for the kid vomit.”

Really, all it would have taken to allay fears and ease anxieties is a few announcements on the PA. “Hi. We’re sorry we screwed up and didn’t have enough people to make this smoother. We’re getting more people and working as fast as we can. We think it’s going to take another 60-90 minutes. We know that is lousy. If you see that any of your neighbours are having trouble and need some help, please help them out and call someone in uniform.”

One woman, not in uniform, deserves special praise for courage in the face of potential mob backlash. There were various moms struggling with crying children. An appropriate response. The courageous woman, seeing one mom having a particularly difficult time, went back in the line and shepherded the mom, kids and stroller to the front of the line, giving a glare to everyone who had been line-jumped that said: “Go ahead and say something and I’ll rip your face off and feed it to you while Charlie Sheen‘s chlidren weep over your lifeless corpse.” Winning!

I’m embarrassed by her kindness and courage, or rather that I didn’t think of it.

And that should be the end of another story of tedious travel, but there is a post script. After finally clearing customs I thought, “Well at least Air Canada will have had time to get the bags to the baggage carousel.” In retrospect, I have no idea why that seemed like a reasonable thought at the time. Of course there were no bags from the Atlanta flight. A hundred-or-so people lined up at the baggage information desk and were told, one at a time, that Air Canada was looking into it. Really folks, you have a loudspeaker. Use it. Don’t be embarrassed. We don’t care what your voice soounds like. We just want the info. Is the bag lost, on the way, detained for being too ugly? Is the timeline minutes, hours or weeks?

Here’s the rule of human nature at work here. In the absence of real information, we will fill the void with our worst imaginings. Don’t let us do that. It’s not going to make your life any better. Really.

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  1. Brilliant. So simple and yet, those in charge rarely speak up to let those who are inconvenienced know why. Most people would be ten times happier if only they had a little more information.

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