Communication Matters!

Yesterday we were flying from New York to Jeddah Saudi Arabia — an arduous trip, mellowed by the superb First Class Suites on board Emirates.

We had four hours to “revitalize” at our Dubai “home” of Raffles Hotel Dubai.

We arrived at the airport in Dubai to learn the flight had been delayed from 4:15 pm to 5:35. I asked why no alerts had been sent out, and why this wasn’t updated, as we had checked not long before. They said, “We just heard.” This, by the way, was pried out of someone at the First/Business Lounge. Our Boarding Card had been given to us with the new departure time with nary a comment. Only as we were passing through security did I notice the time anomaly and then inquired, with some concern, as we entered the Lounge.

The new departure time was 5:35. We arrived at the gate just after 5 to see “Boarding” flashing. We went in. Crowds milled, including those heading to Saudi Arabia for religious pilgrimage and others, like us, going on business. Apparently, “Last Call” was flashing outside. 40 minutes subsequently elapsed, with no announcements or updates!

People started cursing, getting restless, some had been on a connecting flight and waiting since that morning to get on this flight. Others swore they would fly Saudi Airlines on this sector next time. I had learned in the Lounge the first delay was due to a late departure because of boarding problems in Islamabad — these days certainly a hotbed of security concerns. However, virtually no one else in that teeming crowd had even been told that.

We pushed our way out to accost the gate agent, who was duly hapless and kept saying, “5 minutes, 10 minutes.” This after 40 minutes of no announcements or updates!! People started yelling about missed connections, others said there was no place to sit and they weren’t “dogs”. Not sure about the relevance, as dogs would have found a way to settle on the floor doubtless with less fuss than us humans. Or maybe, that was his point…

No manager was in sight. Apparently, if you’re delayed, due to the long processing times at Saudi immigration, if you miss your slot, you have to await a new landing time clearance from them. That then messed up Dubai Civil Aviation paperwork and the pilots experienced the bureaucratic nightmare from hell, seeking the missing person whose signature was needed on the revised paperwork!

Regardless…passengers in this day and age understand security delays, and will swallow (as we have no choice) stupid “paper” delays. What we saw was mounting anxiety, aggravation and anger at an otherwise superb airline because the absence of communication made people feel irrelevant and marginalized. To have “Last Call” flashing to herd us all in, when clearly the pilots must have known they had no idea how much longer the signature might take, showed a “disconnect” between technical systems and the real aims of the airline…paramount among them, transporting customers yes, but in a way that builds loyalty and hopefully an emotional connection with you. To then have no Managers or anyone visible and present, apologizing or handing out vouchers to a nearby coffee shop, or just expressing empathy, created a real furor.

On board, they were wonderful. I told all this to the Senior Purser who sought us out as we’re premium Gold Card passengers who travel for a living. He was shocked that there had been such evident detachment and apathy.

Communication matters. Whether you’re trying to explain Health Care in a way that connects to people’s lives, or when the “ally” we’re propping up in Afghanistan threatens in a Press Conference to go over to the Taliban, when a service provider deals with an unanticipated problem, or simply when we seek to convey a tough truth to someone we love. “Don’t communicate until you have something to say,” is a pernicious default setting.

That way, companies have lost productivity and passion, countries their will, families their trust, due to people not over communicating in times of crisis and challenge, and paying the ultimate homage to the humanity of others: caring enough to build a bridge from the situation to our willingness to make it better for each other…to truly connect and collaborate accordingly.

This matters…so make it matter for you, your family, your business and your community!