I've just come back from Fiji, speaking at the Compass Pools Conference on eMarketing alongside key note speaker Bob Pritchard. It was a fantastic conference, one of the most well organised that I've ever been involved in. Whilst Compass Pools has been around for almost 30 years, it is one of the most progressive and forward thinking companies I've had the pleasure of working with. I wish I could say the same about Air Pacific and Qantas.
Bob Pritchard and his wife Suzie and my wife Rebecca and I were due to leave Fiji yesterday on the 9am flight out of Nadi. At 6am, just before we left the resort we got a call saying that our flight had been delayed and to go back to our room and they would let us know when it had been rescheduled. At 8am we hadn't heard anything and rang reception. They contacted Air Pacific and said that they would know at 10am and to call back then. We called back at 10am and reception contacted Air Pacific again and said that they would know at 12pm and to call back. We called back every 2 hours to get the same story and finally at 6pm we were told that we could get a 3.45am flight back to Sydney and a shuttle bus would pick us up from the resort at 12.45am.
At 12.45, Bob, Suzie, Bec and I got the transfer to Nadi International Airport and when we arrived there at 1.45am we found and almost empty airport with no staff working at the counters, about 20 other people looking slightly distressed and no 3.45am flight being shown on the departure board. We spoke with the other people who were waiting for the mysterious 3.45am flight and they had been told the same story. They were confident that the flight did exist and at 2am the staff would arrive and start checking us in.
At 2.30am staff arrived to start checking in a flight to LA and confirmed our fears that there was no 3.45am flight and said we should go back to our hotels and return at 7am for the 9am flight that morning. This was not an option for us as our resort was an hour away. I asked the staff member to confirm that we were actually on that 9am flight and after about 5 minutes of tapping away on the computer we learned that Bob and Suzie were on the flight, but Bec and I weren't and neither were many of the other 20 people that had all turned up in the middle of the night because they had to get to Sydney to make meeting that day or to make connecting flights to other parts of the world. We had in fact been bumped to a flight leaving at 6.30pm that night, another 16 hours away. There was nothing they could do about it as check in wasn’t starting for another 4 hours and they didn’t have access to change around reservations from that computer and that we should come back at 7am to fight for our place on an oversold flight.
What ensued for the next 20 minutes was a round of arguments from all, including me that as our flight had been cancelled and then we had been given misinformation we should have the priority to get on the next flight and we refused to budge until we were confident we were on that flight. Finally a supervisor came down and made the executive to open check in early and check all of us in, take our bags and issue us boarding passes.
We now had 4 hours to wait until we could go through customs and the airport staff suggested we return to our hotels and they would pay for breakfast. It was too far for us to return to our resort, so we went to a nearby hotel, where Bob, Suzie, Bec and I found some lounges and chairs in the foyer (much more comfortable than the airport) and watch the Olympics, chatted and slept.
When we returned to the airport that morning, we were greeted with the bedlam of 600 people trying to check in to a flight that had been well and truly oversold (see pic). There was no way we would have gotten on that flight if we didn’t make a stand at 3am that morning.
The flight boarded, then waited for another hour for 4 people who hadn’t turned up and then finally we took off, 25 hours after we were originally scheduled to. In what was becoming a parody when we landed in Sydney the pilot taxied the plane 2 meters to close to the terminal and the sky bridge wouldn’t line up with the plane so we had to wait another 20 minutes for tractor to come an push us 2 meters back.
Finally I got home at 3pm on Friday, instead of 1pm on Thursday. Having had to cancel meetings and totally exhausted.
Well what could Air Pacific have done. The cancelled flight was probably out of there control?
The number one rule of customer service is, when the S*** hits the fan (whether it’s your fault or not) communication, openness and honesty is the key.
Throughout the whole ordeal, I always felt like I was in the dark. My impression and perception (and when it comes down to it, the customers perception is there reality) was that Air Pacific had no idea what they were doing.