Teachable Moment - the Saga of United Flight 996

By Marjorie Silverman Honorary President, UICH, Les Clefs d'Or | August 09, 2010

How do you recover as a service organization when everything that could possibly go wrong, does? I had a recent experience with United Airlines where I spent six hours on a plane to fly from Newark to Chicago and I was actually almost grateful to have done so! As a service professional, I became fascinated with the way the captain and the customer relations department handled the situation each step of the way. It was a textbook example of Service Recovery that made me marvel at how well it was executed.

The sequence of events:

1st delay-Late arrival of aircraft

August 2, 2009 was a cloudy, rainy day at Newark Liberty Airport at 9:15 AM, approximately 1 1/2 hours before flight time. Scheduled to depart at 10:46 AM, United 996 was showing an on time departure. The aircraft appeared to arrive a bit late and so we boarded at about 10:50AM or approximately at the time we were supposed to depart. Not at all an unusual occurrence these days.

2nd delay-Mechanical problem

We pushed back from the gate, did the safety review and then the captain made an announcement. They had discovered in their preflight check that there was a mechanical problem which had been fixed but airline rules demanded that a mechanic complete some paper work and we could not taxi to the runway until this paper work was filed-he estimated that it would take 20 minutes to an hour. He apologized for the delay.

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