Slate had a very interesting article about Air Berlin flight that did not go quite as plan for either the passengers or the airline (I’m Here for Business Meetings with No Clothes, Sep 4).
The problem seems to have started when an Aug. 9 flight from Stockholm to Berlin took off without loading any luggage. Almost 200 bags idled in the Stockholm airport; passengers’ inquiries were met with endless redirects. One customer even unveiled a Facebook group called Airberlin 8109 Stockholm to Berlin – Where are our bags?!?!? The somewhat reiterative description reads:
“A group for those who flew on AB 8109 from Stockholm to TXL on 9 August 2013. NONE of the checked luggage was loaded on the airplane—almost 200 missing pieces missing among the passengers. Little to no information has been provided. We filled out forms and were given baggage service numbers to call, but the phone line has no answer all day. Days later, still no information whatsoever, nobody to call, no information, not sure what to do. Baggage company says to contact airline; airline says to contact baggage company. Vacations & weddings ruined. We still can’t comprehend why the captain decided to take off before any pieces of luggage were loaded. We need support from Air Berlin—please get to the bottom of this. This isn’t one lost bag, it’s a whole plane of lost bags!”
Needless to say, people were kinda pissed. You don’t have to infer this. You can read about the long series of increasingly frustrated tweets reproduced in the article (including the one I took to be the title of this article).
Part of what makes this interesting is that it has turned into such a spectacularly public mess as passengers have been not been at all bashful about complaining. As I have noted before, social media has rewritten some of the classic management playbook when it comes to dealing with service failure and recovery. Service management gurus have in the past exhorted firms to build listening posts so they can learn when things have gone wrong. The thinking being that most dissatisfied customer won’t bother to report problems.
Now, of course, it’s easy to get feedback. Unfortunately, it might be a lot less discreet than the firm would like. As with Air Berlin, the firm might lose control of the conversation. The firm has a channel that offers quick and inexpensive feedback but that same channel allows customer to organize and collectively raise a ruckus.
And if the firm is unprepared, it can look bad, really bad. Air Berlin’s customer service folks appear to very much be the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. It took them some time to even offer a public explanation of what went wrong (Air Berlin’s epic luggage stuff up, news.com.au).
An Air Berlin spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, on airberlin flight AB8109 from Stockholm to Berlin-Tegel on 9.08.2013 a chain of unfortunate events occurred which airberlin regrets, and we apologise to our guests for the inconveniences they experienced. In consequence of a delay, the flight was unable to take off in Stockholm on time for Berlin-Tegel.
“The majority of guests on the flight were transfer passengers with a connecting flight via Berlin-Tegel, airberlin’s hub. To ensure that these guests would still reach their final destination via Berlin on the same evening, the pilot decided to take off as quickly as possible in Stockholm and was therefore not able to wait for the baggage to be loaded. …
“The delay of the baggage delivery is directly connected with the situation at Berlin-Tegel airport, which has experienced a large number of operational problems, particularly with transfer baggage, during the increased volume of traffic over the summer months, as Tegel airport is not designed for the rising number of transfer passengers. airberlin takes this matter very seriously and has already instigated various measures jointly with the Berlin Airports authority and the ground services provider, to ensure that the normal level of service can be guaranteed again.”
Is this a real explanation or just as a pathetic attempt to throw the Berlin Airports authority under the bus. (In case you’ve missed it, Berlin was supposed to have new airport by now to replace Berlin-Tegel.) It really makes no sense. What the hell was the pilot thinking? Why would he suppose that people would prefer to be at their destination without bags than possibly delayed in Berlin with bags?
Let’s look at this operationally. If Air Berlin is operating at anything like the load factors of US airlines, accommodating delayed passengers or delayed bags will be difficult. There is, however, a big difference between stranding people in Berlin instead of bags in Stockholm. The people in Berlin need to go different places so you don’t have 200 people all trying to get on the same flight to, say, London. The pain then gets spread around. The bags are a different story. All of the bags will need to get to a hub to continue on to wherever they need to go. Leaving bags then creates a bottleneck on the flights out of Stockholm. My guess is that the long delay is more about getting bags out of Sweden than getting them between planes in Berlin.