A spring blizzard in Denver, brings out the best…and worst in a team

On a recent business trip to nowhere (I’ll explain later) I saw both the best, and the worst in how a team of employees on any given day, for any given organization can rise to the occasion during a crisis…saving the day, or make a bad situation soooo much worse. Even in crisis, especially in crisis sometimes, how your key team members from the front-line… on up respond can either lose you precious customers by the planeload, OR those same people, can become lifelong fans. Warriors extolling the virtues of how your team, turned an awful situation into a pleasurable one.

So, I got on a flight with a back pack and a guitar headed for a seminar in Denver. It was to be a 4 day trip. Days 1 and 4 would be travel, with 2 days of classes in between. A freak blizzard hit Denver that day, one day after 70 degree temperatures filled the air with a touch of spring. Even Denver, used to snow was caught somewhat unprepared for tropical storm force winds and a foot of snow. The airport lost power, while flights were cancelled and diverted left and right. My route, which was supposed to be West Palm Beach, through Newark and then on to Denver changed.

What is tough to swallow was the lack of onsite “Call in” support personnel to handle the influx of delayed and cancelled flights which of course resulted in thousands of travelers being displaced and re-routed. The storm itself was expected, just not the intensity of it.

I won’t name the airline in question in my particular instance, and certainly all carriers flying into the region were affected on this day. However, I can only speak to what my experience was in observing how THIS carrier prepared…or didn’t prepare in advance for the “possibilities.” (this airline was made notorious a few years back by breaking… and even more so, it’s subsequent handling of the breaking, of a traveling songwriters expensive musical instrument. It became a book, and turned this no-name songwriter into an author and well-traveled speaker on the motivational speakers circuit…His topic was of course customer service and the way social media can turn one person into an army.)

Ok, back to regularly scheduled programming. There were not enough customer services representatives at the service desks to handle the travelers who were all in need of routing solutions. Those that were on site, DID manage to for the most part smile and do all they could for the hoards of frustrated travelers. I became one of those travelers upon landing in Newark from Florida when I found out my initial connecting flight to Denver was first delayed and then subsequently cancelled in short order. With some help from my amazing boss, who was pulling the strings behind the scenes, I got re-routed to Houston for a later connecting flight to Denver. The fun started on that flight, as the crew was less than loving and kind. It wasn’t horrible, but it wouldn’t have given an already weary traveler the warm and fuzzies either.

Upon landing in Houston, and all of us turning our mobile devices back on a half-second after touchdown, the word started to spread that Denver airport was closed, and all of our flights were of course, canceled. Welcome to Houston folks, please enjoy your stay.

At the help desk in Houston, the weary, and yes under-manned staff for the airline in question were doing their best, but they were tired, a bit grumpy, under-manned and apparently not “empowered” by their higher ups to do very much to make our unexpected stay in Texas more comfortable. They did give us discount vouchers to local hotels, who on a Wednesday night, were about to get a HUGE boost to their mid-week occupancy rates.

Now, at the hotel the story was entirely different. The staff, though not quite prepared for the surge in business in terms of personnel levels, were entirely ready to smile, accommodate, and inquire as to how they could help to make our unexpected stay wonderful. They succeeded.

That night I found out, I’d never make it to Denver and the entire days’ worth of travel was simply going to take me straight back to Florida the following day. Wow. Who knew what fun that would bring?

As we left the ground the next day, the pilot thankfully warned us of rough weather we’d be flying through, and it sure did get bumpy several times. But the turbulence in the air, bumpy as it was…did not compare to the gruffness of one of the airline attendants who may well have been an Ogre from a Disney movie. People were pissing her off left and right because they needed to “gasp” go to the bathroom. I’ve never in all my years of travel heard an attendant treat guests from all walks of life with such vitriol. “Sir, there is someone in there, you’re going to have to sit down.” “Mam, I will tell you when you can come back to the restroom, it’s currently occupied. There is one up front you can try….if you want.” There is no real way for me to convey here how nasty this woman’s tone and attitude were. Now granted, maybe she was having a horribly off day herself. She is only human. But this is the travel/hospitality industry, and her performance was a solid F.