I love to see mastery in action. Recently, I was on board a Delta flight (#677 from Atlanta to St. Thomas - May 5, 2013), and Capt. Steve Howell was at the helm. As passengers were boarding, I noticed that he was giving a genuine and welcoming greeting to each passenger. Of course, I've seen that before on other flights, but something about the way he did it made you "feel" like he was genuinely appreciative that he was our captain.
Before the plane took off, he made the following announcement..."I apologize, but I just received news that an engine part needs to be replaced, and we don't know how long it will take to find it. It's not a common part, but "our" mechanics will do their best to find one asap, so we can get you on your way to St. Thomas. I believe in being open and honest, so I promise that you will know what I know as soon as I find out anything. I also saw that there are kids on board, so to kill some time, feel free to come on up to the cockpit to have pictures taken, etc". That potent mixture of transparency and hospitality was world-class.
Then, a little while later, he was walking through the cockpit (row by row) asking if anyone had any questions or needed additional clarification on anything. After that, the flight attendants came through the aisle offering water to everyone. At this point, the flight had been grounded for what seemed like no more than 10-15 minutes.
After another five minutes, we were asked to move to a new plane (at a different gate in Atlanta's sprawling airport). Even with the move, Capt. Howell continued to keep us updated regarding how long it would take for the plane to be catered and for luggage from the first flight to be moved to the new plane. In all, the flight delay (including switching gates) took a little over an hour, but the seemingly unanimous feeling amongst the passengers was one of deep appreciation. Not because we were able to switch planes so quickly, but because of how considerate and empathetic the captain and his team were.
Waiting is one thing, but not being kept informed about the wait is what drives people mad. Capt. Howell did a masterful job of keeping us informed and facilitated a potentially annoying situation into a memorable travel experience.
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