|photo by skinnylawyer at CreativeCommons.org|
Twenty years ago my job with Continental Airlines was in customer service. I worked too many delayed flights due to weather, mechanical problems, crew issues or one terrible night, a crash at the Denver airport. Some days it seemed the lines of inconvenienced fliers went on endlessly. Their reactions to their predicaments spanned the continuum. Some were calm. Many people made demands I couldn't meet anymore than I could have come up with ransom for a kidnapping. (Trade out an airplane, reopen the closed aircraft doors, call the plane back to the gate.) Some were frighteningly irate, nearly out of control. Those made me glad for the bulky desk between us.
In the recent incident, it would have been ideal to have United employees on the ground to handle the passenger needs. But there aren't any in Goose Bay as it's 942 miles as the goose flies from Newark to Goose Bay. And the crew is legally required to a certain number of hours of rest before flying on.
Emergencies disrupt and delay, but good communication is the most important element of service the airline can give their of customers. At the minimum there should have been phone, text and email communication. UA should have been able to arrange towels and blankets for all.
The night must have been miserable. The whole ordeal disappointing, maddening, and frustrating. But I would not go so far as one passenger did to say it was inhuman.
People were inconvenienced in order to keep them safe. That is radically different than cruelty or barbarism. It was handled poorly but not maliciously. They huddled in bare beds in a cold building, not on a ship left to drift on its own in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Those "passengers" are being treated inhumanely.
Let us not confuse discomfort with hardship. That exalts irritation and debases real suffering.