Airlines face crazy, never ending issues every day and I have total respect for them. I do however think that in all the endless chaos they sometime forget the one thing that makes their planes take off. It’s not fuel, wind, pilots, jumbo jets or Rolls Royce engines, it’s people. Paying passengers. I was injured on a flight, which is a rare occurrence for most airlines yet it seemed like no one cared, no one responded and there was no reasonable handling. Here are five things which I hope American Airlines takes away from our (very) well publicized incident…

When You Injure A Passenger Or Have A Serious Incident, You NEED A Quarterback…

I went four days without hearing a peep from American despite being brutally smashed by a beverage cart and injured in flight. In the air they were so worried that they wanted to turn the plane around, yet once on the ground I got four days of total silence! On the fifth day I heard “someone is looking into it and will be in touch” via Twitter of all places. I was not given a contact or phone number to reach, just a vacuous online portal where everyone complains about 15 minute flight delays to direct my thoughts. This situation would’ve been vastly different had someone called me later that first or next day, explained that they’d be looking after me through every step, gave me a briefing on how many departments must get involved for things, how long I can expect things to take and left me with contact details, should I have any issues or needs arise.

Injuring passengers is limited to at most a few cases a day or week for most airlines, so in theory one person could quarterback all these issues and be the forward facing (and reachable) voice for the company. A person whose name you know is a lot different to an online portal without an email address. In this instance I only received an explanation for why things took so long this week. More than three weeks later. Too late and unfortunately for them, they suffered for it.

Even Someone With No Followers Should Be Cared For. Don’t Write People Off, Maybe Even Look At Them…

I completely misread American’s interest in this situation. I figured that as a travel journalist they’d take that “quarterback” approach to keep things open, smooth and for their own end, hopefully private. I actually intended for things to go that way, shutting down a few stories pitched to me and not talking about it publicly for two weeks until American had their full chance to be reasonable. While I sat for weeks waiting I just couldn’t help but think the whole while that Kanye West would already be enjoying free flights for life and Concierge Key status had this happened to him. Maybe they’d even let him fly the plane for the hell of it. A beautiful thing in the modern world is that any of you reading this is just one tweet, Facebook post or email away from having a viral story if something seriously wrong happens to you. One message to me, Gary Leff, Ben Schlappig, Brian Kelly, Matthew Klint or one of the other heavyweight travel bloggers out there can instantly turn “some random guy” situation into an article read by thousands, even millions of people in a matter of hours which television news stations pick up on, as Fox News did with me. Airlines should have figured that out by now, but since stories like these keep appearing on the news, maybe not yet…

If You Don’t Handle A Customer You’ve Wronged Your Competition Will, And You Will Look Like A Double Idiot…

Treating a person you injure like a ghost is never good. If I ever injure you, you better believe I’ll be sending you something alcoholic with a nice note and making sure you get well. Failing to get in touch in a serious situation or offer a meaningful gesture of goodwill was fail number one. Fail number two was a waiting opportunity, while inaction happened. Virgin Atlantic made my week, hell, they may have made my year by sending me flowers and knee pads which landed me a roar of laughter. Their gesture offered a totally fresh perspective on how a company can react to a problem or handle a problem. It was a personal touch, there was a sense of humor, and considering that more than two weeks on from the incident, I hadn’t even received a refund from American, let alone flowers or a written apology (just lame vouchers) it made American Airlines look really bad… like really really bad. It also also got Virgin Atlantic tons of free press and goodwill. More than 200,000 people (I know because I can see that stuff) saw Virgin Atlantic’s goodwill gesture. It went VIRAL and American became not only a bad actor, but the butt of a joke. 

If A Customer Is Trying To Be Nice, Swoop In And Take Advantage While It Lasts…

Day four I initiated real contact with American. I used Elliot.org to find executive email addresses and let their customer care executives and a communications executive know exactly who I was:  a travel journalist, a OneWorld Emerald member and lucky for them, someone whose not a litigious person. I expressed that I had full faith that American would take a hands on approach to resolve this quickly and privately. I made no demands, only that I had been wronged, injured, had a scary flight and I hoped that they would show me why this instance was an outlier. They chose to do virtually nothing with that information and instead see it as a sign of weakness. Since the event I’ve been told by countless insiders at American that had I gotten an attorney to send a letter with intent to sue that I would’ve received vastly different numbers in compensation and care and that their starting offer would’ve been a multiple of the $800 in vouchers I received. Why should I be punished for being reasonable? It really hurts to admit that my advice for someone injured in flight would be to be unreasonable from the word go, because if they don’t they’re going to miss out on what’s fair, be perceived as weak and end up like me, waiting for three weeks for a refund of your medical expenses or flight, only to be told the refund would be happening when you go on national TV. Short of getting on Fox News I have zero belief that I would’ve ever been refunded…

Am I Right Here? Anything To Add?