It has been a torrid time for the airline industry this summer.
A JetBlue flight from Boston to Sacramento on Thursday night hit severe turbulence, injuring 24 passengers. Earlier this week, Delta Air Lines came to a complete halt for a big chunk of time after a computer failure at its Atlanta headquarters. It took the airline the best part of the week to reach normal service. Thousands of flights were canceled and passengers were massively disrupted.
That came after an Emirates Airlines flight crashed upon landing in Dubai earlier this month. One UAE firefighter was killed, but, miraculously no one on board the plane was seriously hurt. And just last month, Southwest Airlines’ computer problems forced the cancellation of thousands of flights, leaving hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded.
So — dear traveler, what did we learn from the misfortunes of midsummer?
1. JetBlue’s turbulent ride: Those who got injured on hit the aircraft ceiling when the plane dropped suddenly. Stop thinking the instruction to keep your seat belt fastened is a cunning plan to turn your seat into your prison locking you there for the journey! It’s plain common sense. Obviously some people will be going to the lavatory, getting out bags or moving about the plane and they are going to be vulnerable. But reduce the risk: keep the belt fastened and protect yourself.
2. Emirates fire: The plane is on fire. Leave your bags behind and GET OUT. What is so difficult about this to understand? Yet the video from the burning plane showed passengers attempting to get bags out of the overhead compartment (it was a similar situation when a British Airways flight burst into flames in Las Vegas, passengers walked off the burning jet with their hand baggage) I am not sure how much clearer the airlines can make it: Your bags are not worth your life.
3. Southwest & Delta disruptions: When airlines suffer mega disruptions, you are on your own in the first few hours. You won’t be able to get anyone to answer the phone at the help desk, the website will offer up useless generic advise about re-booking. Banal tweets from the airline designed to pacify will, instead, serve to annoy. You are on truly your own, but consider your options:
A) if you haven’t started travel: Don’t. Take advantage of the airline’s offer to let you cancel without penalty. Go home and rest easy.
B) If you must travel: Go and book yourself on another carrier ASAP. You can argue about getting your money back later. Believe me — you are in a brutal battle with others trying to do the same thing. Don’t waste a minute. Book any seat you can get.
C) If you have already begun your trip, become zen-like and be prepared for hours of misery. There is nothing you can do. Nothing. Planes are already nearly full so finding extra seats for displaced passengers will be tough.
The lessons from United, Southwest and Delta is that mega-computer screw-ups are going to happen. There is nothing you can do about it.
The golden rule: airlines are amongst the most complex companies in the world. Be it weather, baggage, delays, strikes, incidents, computer problems, when they go wrong they do so spectacularly. Just be prepared to help yourself and you won’t be disappointed.