Don’t forget staff are people too: one cancelled flight & people freaked out

With the various contracts I do, I fly pretty frequently now; perhaps three or four times a month. After one experience of Jetstar I decided that I could get places more reliably if I used a pillowcase sail on a skateboard, so I fly exclusively on Air New Zealand. Today I had the rarest of experiences in all my time flying: a cancelled flight and no prospect of a seat on another flight.

“Air New Zealand would like to advise passengers to Tauranga on flight 5501, due to engineering issues, this flight has been cancelled. All passengers are asked to collect any checked in baggage from the carousel and please proceed to Counter One for further information.”

Peoples reactions in this situation are priceless and dysfunctional. My own was bemusement, slight annoyance and resignation. I’d rather not be on a plane that could drop out of the sky (though in all honesty I understand that most engineering issues are not at that level of seriousness), not one staff member planned this to frustrate us, and all the staff from baggage handler to the duty manager would rather this hadn’t happened at all. All of this, however true, has no bearing on the rage people find in such circumstances.

“This is not acceptable to me. You WILL fix this!”

“I demand you move people on the later flight. I’ve paid for my ticket!”

“My husband is expecting me home.”

“I’ve had a long fucking ay. Do you know how fucking long my day is. F.U.C.K.I.N.G long! You don’t know what it’s like for me.”

If I wasn’t trying to be good, I would have bought donuts so I could sit back and enjoy the show. When the above people found out that a coach was organised (in pretty good time; it was outside the terminal within 45 minutes), there rage scale pushed up to Defcon One. One man who came out to look at the bus tried to order the bus driver to drop him at his home address rather than the airport.

I am on the coach (the driver has explained to me it’s technically a coach, not just a bus) writing this and he’s making great time. Some people who couldn’t afford rental cars and haven’t got accommodation paid for are essentially holding out for Air New Zealand to pay for one of those two things and refused to come on the bus.

One of the myths people parrot is that New Zealanders are passive consumers and aren’t pushy enough in protecting their consumer rights. If pushy is what I saw this evening, then how about let’s not. Staff at Air New Zealand, in your restaurant, at the shopping mall, in the supermarket are just doing a job. Most of them don’t get paid enough to put up with your frustration intersecting your unresolved psychological problems.

Staff are people first. People who thought working in a service industry would probably be what they would like to do, or was what they had to do to support themselves and their whānau. Staff are not unfeeling automatons who can’t sympathise with you nor are they gods who are refusing to use their divine powers to resolve your problems. Staff are people first.

So I know you want to get where you are going. I know you wanted your meal quicker. I know you are not satisfied with the quality of this product. I know you have a lot to do and don’t have time for this conversation. I know you think you are important. I think you are important. Just as important as the staff member you are talking to.

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