Is It That Hard to Communicate?

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Readers of these columns know that I have low tolerance for 2 things: sheer stupidity in business and condescension towards your customers.

It is for that reason that, despite the shortcomings of most airlines, I stopped flying El Al with any regularity four years ago, and have rarely looked back.

These past two weeks, I had yet two more lessons in why I made that decision.

The Minor

A week ago, I was on El Al's flight from Rome to Tel Aviv. The flight boarded smoothly, and the doors closed on time. And then.... nothing. For an hour, we sat there at the gate, engines off, doors closed, just waiting. And not a single announcement. Study after study has shown that people have far more tolerance for delay when they understand what it is. Want to make a customer irate? Make them wait but feel there is no good reason. A customer will wait more happily for 30 minutes with a good reason and sense of progress than 5 minutes that appears slow, wasteful, and unmoving. To this day, I have no idea why we were delayed.

The Major

Earlier this week, I was in London for a series of meetings. I had a late night 23:30 flight from London Luton to Tel Aviv on, you guessed it, El Al. Luton is one of the smaller London airports, north of the city, just a single terminal building. It mainly services low-cost airlines like Wizz Air and easyJet.

When I got to the airport at 22:00, I found out that the flight had been cancelled. Apparently, there have been some difficult wage negotiations between El Al management and the pilots, so 4 or 5 flight crews simply didn't show up. They turned off their cellphones, disconnected their home phones, and simply let the customers twist in the wind.

Personally, my view is, you signed up for the job, you do it. You don't like it... quit.

But beyond that, the management of the situation by El Al management was atrocious. It takes 5 hours to fly from Tel Aviv to London, and another 90 minutes to service and load the plane. So if my flight was scheduled to leave at 23:30, it had to arrive no later than 22:00, and therefore leave Tel Aviv no later than 17:00 UK time.

By 16:00, they had to know there was an issue when the pilots didn't show up and were unreachable. By 17:00 the flight had to be delayed. Yet El Al told no one of the flying public until they arrived at Luton at 21:00 or later!

El Al's disdain for its customers is second only to its disdain for... its bottom line. Had El Al updated its Web page, updated its flight status, notified the various flight tracking databases, many customers would have headed to Heathrow to take the El Al flight there, or the late night British Airways. Some would have rushed to Luton earlier to get the evening easyJet. Others would have grabbed connections via Istanbul, Prague or Poland.

Every one of those people now became a problem for El Al to get onto their already full next morning flight, pay for food, hotel and transportation. And it had to pay a lot of overtime.

El Al not only upset its flying public, it simply threw away bottom-line cash.

Sometimes it is hard to be open with your customers as it conflicts with your short-term (but never long-term) profitability; but when customer openness is good for them and for you, it takes real talent to mess it up.