Takeaways for organizers from a delayed flight...

Recently, my flight home ended up being delayed by a handful of hours; these things happen... just like things happen at every trade show.

As a frequent-ish flyer, I wasn't too upset with the airline over this, but I was annoyed that they were doing that thing where they don't acknowledge that there's a delay or update you on the actual time they think we'll be able to leave. Instead, they just don't say anything and everyone has to speculate on what's happening.

  • TAKEAWAY #1: Proactive communication (even if it's something like, "we know there's an issue and [whatever] won't happen on time... but that's all we know for now; we'll update you again at [time]") is reassuring/less annoying to your audience; plus, it may prevent some rumors you'd rather not be spread.

The other big pre-boarding issue was that we were at a gate where two planes board from the same jet bridge (after they scan your boarding pass, you walk down the jet bridge together, but one flight turns to get to their plane and the other stays straight and runs into theirs).

Now, as you might have guessed, someone got on the wrong flight... And, the only reason we found out was that there was someone else sitting in "their seat" on our plane.

Because they were boarding two flights at the same time from the same gate/jet bridge, I think the airline should have known this was likely to happen... but, at least it was a full flight (otherwise, this person may have realized too late to make their original flight or ended up in the wrong city entirely).

  • TAKEAWAY #2: Initial instructions and extra signage aren't always enough to get the right people to the right places. Sometimes, you need a real person to intervene in the moment of need to ensure no one gets lost.

  • TAKEAWAY #3: If the people in charge don't prevent problems from happening, the participants will often step up to find solutions on their own. Their solution may or may not be what you wanted... but, at least there will be a solution.

As it turned out, the people in charge of our flight had to resolve a couple different mechanical issues on board (one before we got on and one after we were already in line to take off), so they didn't have the bandwidth to prevent the person from getting on the wrong plan or re-seat the individuals who had been displaced by a couple who didn't realize which row they were in; fortunately, the solutions that the passengers came up with worked out.

Unfortunately, the second maintenance issue (something with the breaks) led us to getting back off of the plane... and, when a gate opened up and we walked up the jet bridge, the staff at the gate didn't seem to know who we were or why we were there. When passengers were asking about the new plan, the staff started sharing what they had heard from other passengers, rather than whatever they were supposed to share. Probably not what the airline wanted...

  • TAKEAWAY #4: Don't forget to keep all relevant team members in the loop about challenges experienced and your preferred solutions (or, at a minimum, what information has been/shouldn't yet be shared with your audience).

From there, we learned that we would be getting a new plane (so should still be departing that evening) and a new gate (announced properly, but displayed incorrectly in the app/monitors). One of the passengers, who had trouble seeing/getting around on her own, asked to walk to the next gate with us, since she trusted we'd be able to help her get there vs. asking others (especially considering the incorrect app/monitors).

We did (of course!) and, after getting her situated at the next gate, I observed the other passengers: most people were updating their families that dinner plans would be missed, some were trying to book backup seats on next day flights, and one realized that we had been waiting long enough that we were entitled to meal vouchers.

I chatted with the person talking about the meal vouchers, confirmed with the airline and nearest restaurant, then told the people I had met on the flight (including the lady who walked with us to the gate) so we could all take advantage of that opportunity. In doing so, I was able to order, receive, and even eat most of my food before it was time to re-board again.

Other passengers, who didn't find out until later (if at all) didn't have enough time to get and/or use their vouchers. As a result, my seatmate was already typing a strongly worded complaint message when we took off and the lady a couple rows in front of us demanded a tray full of free drinks.

  • TAKEAWAY #5: If you wait until people realize that they haven't been treated fairly (or they missed out on an opportunity), that's too late to facilitate a positive experience for all; remedies may be more challenging or costly after the fact... especially if those who missed out are also feeling "hangry."

In the end, we made it home safely.

I met some nice people in the delay (including a guy who lives in my neighborhood, an exhibitor who had just signed up for our text message program for an upcoming trade show, and a woman who offered to introduce me to a relevant organizer who may need my services).

And, I didn't feel like I need to cause a fuss with the airline.

Why? I think it's because I started with appropriate expectations (understanding that delays happen) and prepared accordingly (building in that buffer), plus I worked with my fellow passengers to overcome the challenges that arose that the people in charge couldn't or didn't choose to intervene on (getting people into the right planes/seats, enjoying the benefits we were due, etc.).

Yes - there were things the airline could have done better, but on my own/with my peers, we made the most of the experience... just as your exhibitors and attendees will do, if/when challenges arise at your next trade show :)