Featured Post

What a Journalist Isn't

I'm sick and tired of the abuse journalists are getting at the moment. They don't deserve it, at least real journalists don't - ...

12 March 2013

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

I've made a few cockups in my time, on and off air.

I cringe when I think of the brain freeze that led me, whilst covering a high-profile funeral, to get the name of the deceased wrong in a live voicer. On another occasion I booked an interview with a well-known writer and completely forgot about it, leaving reception to make abject apologies.

On both these occasions, and many others, I've apologised when I've screwed up and tried to make amends to those affected. Which is why I get cross when others won't do likewise.

I had lots of time to ponder this question yesterday when the airline Flybe, with a franchised service operated by the Scottish carrier LoganAir, stranded me for three hours at Glasgow airport.

That in itself was just one of those things. Tech stuff happens. One of their planes had a problem. The last thing I'd ever want compromised is air safety so I don't have an issue with that at all.

I do have a huge issue with the way they dealt with it.


The flight was delayed repeatedly, finally adding up to 3 hours and 5 minutes. At no time did anyone come to me with any information as to the reason for the delays, nor did they announce anything on the tannoy. They know all my phone and email details, and they knew I'd checked in. Nothing. Yet they take every opportunity to contact me persistently with marketing offers.

So I tried to talk to someone on the phone. Flybe's customer service phone line was left unanswered over two attempts of over ten minutes each, leaving me with a fiver's worth of premium call charges. For nothing. Never reached a human being.

When I finally collared a passing Flybe employee on the ground (22 years as a journo leaves some residual persuasion skills) he told me the only way to obtain food and drink (which is a passenger's right if they're delayed more than two hours) would be to proceed to the gate and speak to Flybe's personnel there. Fair enough.

But if I did so I would then be required to exit the airport, obtain a new boarding card from the ticket desk, and clear security for a second time before finally obtaining any food. 

Read that again.

I'm not making this up. I wish I was. Kafka got nowhere near imagining the level of bureaucratic nonsense inflicted on passengers yesterday afternoon. "That's the rule. That's just the way it is"

Of course all companies have 'Customer Charters' these days. A bit like Mission Statements and Promises of Performance they look great in the Annual Report. They're great in theory, but ignored in practice. At least Flybe's was.

Flybe's 'Passenger Charter' states "In the event that your flight is delayed for more than two hours we can provide you a notice confirming your rights. This will detail our policy relating to refreshments, telephone calls and accommodation which may be available to you. During any delay we will keep you regularly informed of the situation". 

Nope. Nada. Didn't happen.

Under these circumstances, abandoned in the terminal, thoughts turn to financial compensation,  Under EC Regulation 261/2004 passengers just might get their hands on €250 in circumstances such as mine.

But that, I think, is the problem. I don't really want €250. Not really.

I want a firm, any firm I deal with, to care enough about me as a paying customer to not just ignore me.

If Flybe staff at Glasgow had sought out the 20 or so delayed Leeds passengers, offered us a meal and a drink, let us sit in comfort in a lounge with newspapers and BBC News I'd have been singing their praises today. If they'd offered me a free (future) flight I'd be over the moon. Instead I'm really, really pigged off.

Maybe it's fear of compensation culture that prevents anyone 'admitting liability' by actually being sorry.

Above all else I just wanted someone to apologise .. really, properly apologise .. for the inconvenience and disappointment they had caused. A few gabbled words read from a flight attendant's script card on landing does not constitute an apology.

Offering proper customer service could actually save companies a lot of money in the bigger scheme of things. I'm now bloody-mindedly determined to get a cash settlement from the airline, because it's all I can hope for.

A kind word and a cup of coffee would cost them far, far less in the long run.

It would have saved their reputation.

I'm posting responses from both Flybe and Loganair (as I receive them) in the comments section below. I'm keeping a running commentary going on Twitter at @leedsjourno


  1. Quick update. 48 hours on, and today Flybe have dumped all blame for the fiasco above on Loganair. This is the email from the Flybe customer service team received today:

    Dear Mr Horsman,

    Re BE6984 11th March 2013

    Thank you for your correspondence regarding the above flight

    I can confirm that Loganair operates the above flight and therefore all correspondence relating to their operation must be directed to them in order that they may respond to you directly.

    I have therefore forwarded your correspondence to Loganair at the address below.

    Loganair Limited
    St Andrew’s Drive
    Glasgow Airport
    PA3 2TG

    In the meantime please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused.

    Yours sincerely,

    James Kerr

    Customer Relations

    c.c Loganair"

    With a fulsome apology like that, maybe I've been harsh on them? Erm .. no.

  2. First sign of some personal attention? Had this come a bit sooner (like .. three days ago) I might never have written the post above

    "Dear Mr Horsman

    Thank you for your email concerning your delayed flight and the poor service you have received due to this incident.

    On behalf of Loganair and Flybe I would like to apologise for the inconvenience this incident has caused yourself and the other passengers.

    We are investigating this incident and the circumstances surrounding it and we will contact you as soon as possible.

    Yours sincerely
    Lissa Forrest

    Lissa Forrest
    Customer Relations Assistant
    Loganair Ltd

  3. So ... a week on from the holding email above I've received a proper letter of apology from Loganair.

    It's on paper and came in a nice thick envelope so I'll need to scan it in at some point. But the gist is I've got the proper, personal apology I asked for .. and more importantly a promise that the issues raised in the exchanges reproduced above will be addressed with the ground handling personnel at Glasgow Airport.

    So in that sense they've met my demands. Next time there's an unavoidable delay at Glasgow Flybe/Loganair passengers should be treated with more consideration and respect. At least, that's what they're promising.

    I know there will be those reading this who think I should plough on and fight for €250 compensation. I'm almost certainly entitled to it, and if I continued battling I'd probably win. I should not just accept that 'technical problems' amounts to circumstances beyond Loganair's control.

    BUT this was never a row over money. It was about principle.

    So I'm minded to accept the £25 token payment for inconvenience offered. It doesn't feel too madly disproportionate on a £152 air fare. Even at airside prices it would have paid for a decent meal (and for that coffee I've been going on about).

    I'll ask Loganair to make the cheque out to the Bradford Curry Project (@BfdCurryProject), as I reckon their service users need a decent meal more than I do two weeks down the line. If Loganair would like to chip in a few bob extra themselves to help this great cause that's up to them (and might help the airline recover a bit of PR sparkle).

    The test will be what happens next time. After an apology the next stage is to learn from the mistake. I'll be interested to hear experiences from others.