Missed Opportunity for Continental

Art of Hospitality Lesson...When things go bad, don't make them worse. Seems like common sense. I think that's what is lacking in organizations like Continental Airlines.

Last Thursday, 168 passengers on Continental flight 71 endured a 32 hour journey to get from Amsterdam to Newark. Along the way, the poor people on the plane enjoyed overflowing and inoperable toilets, raw sewage in the aisles and an unexpected overnight stop in Ireland. One of the passengers, Dana Bushman, was kind enough to share her personal account. Or, you can read the media version. Either way, it wasn't a good day for anyone, especially Continental.

Continental's failure has nothing to do with toilets or flight delays. Much like like Jet Blue's Valentine's Day chaos, it's not an equipment problem, it's a people problem. It's an attitude of prevention and fear that gets these companies into trouble. They use traditional and outdated PR tactics to downplay very serious and remarkable issues. And, that's what everyone expects them to do...and there lies the missed opportunity. Here's the PR statement released by Continental:

"We deeply regret the serious inconvenience to our customers and are apologizing to them and compensating them for the poor conditions on the flight as well as the diversion and delay," from the Houston-based carrier.
FYI, the compensation (to date) amounted to $100-$500 in credit vouchers for future flights.

Pretty lame...and exactly what we've come to expect. Now, they're in a real firestorm...and, deservedly so.

The mishandling of the people on that flight was remarkably bad. Yes, some things could have been prevented along the way. But, they weren't. And, the situation ended up in the toilet (pun intended). Such is life. But, anytime you have a situation that's remarkably bad, you have a gift...an opportunity to create something remarkably good. In fact, it's the only option...if you care to erase the bad. Continental should have been prepared to do just that. They should have seized the opportunity and jumped into action and done something like this...Continental's CEO should have personally greeted the passengers of that flight upon arrival in Newark. The airline should have made 168 passengers lifetime platinum (or whatever the highest level is) members. They should have been offered lifetime airline passes (at least a couple of trips per year). They should have been treated like royalty. They should have been given champagne and T-shirts (I survived the s**t storm on flight 71). They should have been showered with gifts and apologies...and caring.

The passengers should have been converted from disgruntled Continental haters to raving fans...whatever the price. But sadly, they weren't.

Continental could have been lucky (where opportunity meets preparation). But, sadly, they weren't.

We're going to unravel this some more on tomorrow's indieHotelier program...join in on the fun at 11 AM EDT via Talkshoe.

Update: Dana Bushman will join us on tomorrow's live indieHotelier show to give us her first-hand account.