Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Posted by Kevin Bishop - September 29, 2011
Filed in Changing behaviour, Communication, Other

Why do airlines find it so hard to say sorry?
I have been doing a lot of travel lately, and today is no exception, with flying from my home in Melbourne to Brisbane to run a session on teaching leaders in an IT department to tell their strategic story.
Last night in Melbourne was pretty rough weather wise – massive downpours (the wettest September day in 56 years), lightening and thunder. This obviously caused significant travel disruption, with Melbourne airport being severely impacted with a number of postponed and cancelled flights. This meant that a large number of planes, and crew, were not in the right place for their departures this morning.
So for me, this meant a delay of 2 hours to my flight this morning. This has meant I have had to contact my client and move the session back, and for a number of the attendees this has meant that can only come to the first hour of the session. You don’t want to incur extra costs by staying the night before, and I thought that by getting a flight which gave me an extra 2 1/2 hours of ‘contingency’ I would be fine. It was very stressful when this was not the case.
So when we finally get onboard the flight this morning, the announcement welcoming us started off quite well with the cabin crew member explaining the reasons for the delay (see my blog post on the importance of this). It then quickly went downhill.
Comments like; “so you should all feel lucky we are only two hours late”, and “I am sure this short delay will not impact anyone“, didn’t lighten my mood.
However the thing that got me the most – not once did he apologise. The word “sorry” did not cross his lips. Even an insincere, ‘you can tell he didn’t mean it’ kind of apology. Nothing.
I just don’t understand why, on two counts. Why did he not say it, and why does it bother me so much?
I know it’s not his fault. I know the reasons for the delay. But there is something about the acknowledgement of the impact on me and my day that needed to be said, whether he meant it or not.
This is not a solely Australian airline behaviour. After flying on the 6:20 a.m. London Gatwick to Edinburgh flight every week for nearly two years, and it being delayed more often than on time, not once did I hear an apology. Maybe it’s just an airline thing?
I would love to hear people’s views on those two questions I posed for myself: Why do airlines not say sorry?, and why does it seem to matter to me so much?
I might have to do some research myself on the power that comes from an apology. I am flying to Newcastle tomorrow morning, I might very well have some time on my hands…

3 Responses to “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”

  1. JM Cardenas Says:

    Why does it bother you?…For me this is answered in the quote from American poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

  2. KipTaylor Says:

    Get over yourself – I was on a flight the day before this and the flight was cancelled. We spent the night sleeping on the floor of the airport then couldn’t get a flight until the following afternoon (I was due to start a new job that morning). It is was out of everyone’s control and event out of the airlines control so why should they apologise, they have not done anything wrong.
    Flights being delayed or cancelled is a part of life. If you want to make double sure to be there give yourself more time.
    If people weren’t so egocentric and whingy the world would be a much better place.
    Life isn’t just about you!

  3. Shiva Nagaraj Says:

    Let me put it from airline point of view first – Well, if airlines say “sorry”, does it mean that they are at fault? does it mean they may have to accommodate passengers in various kinds of compensation if they say sorry?
    From passengers point of view – I missed my schedule, I missed my family gathering, I missed my date for the reasons that aren’t mine. I expect apology from others.
    From my point of view, but if exchange of feelings happen between airlines and passengers both end up being happy.