Flying home on United Airlines from Denver yesterday afternoon and the gate agent made the following announcement: “The captain wants to weather warn you that due to severe thunderstorms this flight may be diverted to Idaho Falls, Idaho or Spokane, Washington (both of which are a four hour drive or more from Boise, Idaho). The announcement complete the agent asked for Zone 1 to begin boarding. The hesitation to board was obvious. Should I get on? What are the chances of the plane diverting? Is the Boise airport open right now? Have planes been landing during the day? What happens to me if the airline deplanes me in a town so far away from my destination?
Passengers started asking questions and got no answers. Then the great mobile phone game began. Passengers called anyone who might be effected by a major shift to their itinerary. I overhear calls where people were forecasting not being able to arrive in Boise until noon the following day. I called my wife and she quickly emailed me the following photo from her phone
A quick check of Flightaware.com and I saw that the airport was seeing normal departure and arrival activity. My potential panic subsided with this information. I tried to share my ‘local’ knowledge of the situation but those around me continued to make a flurry of calls and emails before we departed.
From the moment the plane door closed until we arrived in Boise there was not a single announcement about our intended plan. The pilot and co-pilot or flight attendant never acknowledged the weather warning or calmed the frenzy by announcing that we were planning to fly direct to Boise. People discussed the potential diversion and their plans until it became evident that we were descending through the storm to the airport.
This was a great reminder that you need to remain cognisant of your message. You may have clarity about your strategy internally but have you fully communicated it to your customers and constituents? Do your customers think you are on a diversion when you are actually planning to proceed as planned? A lot of energy is used and mistrust developed when you are not transparent in these situations.