On a recent flight returning from Montreal, the airline announced that the thunder and lightning was so bad in Toronto that the airport was shut down and we had to wait an hour before departure – no problem; I had a book.
Sure enough we were off within the hour; although, the turbulence was so bad that the airline attendants stopped serving drinks and pretzels. When we arrived in Toronto we were told there was a backlog of planes so we sat on the tarmac for three hours waiting for the ground crew and a gate. That’s when I started to take notice and really listen to the announcements. Every half hour the Captain would give the passengers an update, but instead of saying the name of the airline (you know who you are), his announcement sounded like this: “We have just heard from the Company", "the Company has informed us”, and "the Company has just…”. On and on, he made reference to “the Company”.
Other people on the plane also started to become aware of these bizarre announcements that replaced the name of the airline with “the Company”. One gentleman behind me remarked that he felt like he was in a sci-fi movie. Another passenger laughed and said he was sure there was a book called “The Company”. And yet another passenger asked, “What are they trying to hide? Do they think we’re idiots and don’t know the name of the airline?”
I also noticed how awkward the Captain sounded every time he said the words “the Company”. This phrase did not roll off his tongue easily. The poor man sounded completely unauthentic and out of his comfort zone. He was obviously trying very hard to keep his passengers updated and to communicate what we could expect, which is a great approach given the fact we had no air conditioning, no water, and were told it would be best if we did not use the toilets.
I wonder what my colleague Vince Molinaro, Knightsbridge’s leadership guru, would say about the leadership team that came up with the idea to try and fool their customers by using the term “the Company” in the hopes that they wouldn’t associate the delay with the airline’s corporate brand. In my work as a career coach I know that when you ask an employee to do or say something that makes them uncomfortable or is out of sync with their values and or beliefs, you are risking their engagement, professionalism, and your corporate brand. In this case, the result of these announcements was a plane full of people chatting out loud and asking each other what happened to common sense in leadership!
So here is some advice to Airline X (aka: "The Company"): the next time there is a delay, offer me a bottle of water during my three hour wait, trust your employees to handle these types of situations, and don’t script your employees’ every sentence. Employees want to feel empowered and when they do, who knows, it may result in your corporate engagement scores increasing. No one on that plane was blaming you for the weather.