On New Year’s Day 2011, I arrived at the Orlando Airport anticipating a smooth travel day after a five-day vacation at Disney World; we were tired and ready to be home. To my chagrin, our flight to Baltimore via AirTran was delayed, not cancelled, due to the absence of one flight attendant. We were told flight crews had been partying as it was New Year’s Eve, and they didn’t want to come to work. (REALLY? What an unprofessional and poor public relations message to passengers.)
After two hours waiting, scurrying to get on standby for the direct flight and then resolved to spend the night in the airport with my child (it’ll be an adventure, honey, really), the terminal erupted in W00Ts; the errant flight attendant showed up to work (or some replacement).
When we arrived in Baltimore and experienced yet another delay on the next leg of the journey, we learned there were, unofficially, 40 Airtran pilots and 200 flight attendants who had walked out on New Year’s Day. Flights nation-wide were disrupted – either cancelled or delayed. Passengers in terminals since 4 a.m. were on the fringe of a nervous breakdown.
The Baltimore-Boston folks received $100 travel vouchers (as if they’d ever travel the airline again) and had to wait for the Montego Bay pilots to arrive internationally, transfer to domestic, and fly them home. Luckily for me, we only arrived one hour late to our destination, but the in between was stressful.
To make sense of this public relations debacle, I asked two of my best pals, Flight Attendant Kimberly Sutherland and Tim Adams, a high-end pipefitter for a local union, to help me understand the perspective from the airline employees:
- Kimberly was shocked when I informed her AirTran personnel suggested its crews were hung over. Then she explained it was probably a walkout due to contract negotiations. AirTran is allegedly merging with Southwest airlines, although that merger has not been finalized. I searched around for news bulletins of the New Year’s Day walkout and was surprised to find nothing I could tap.
- Tim shared his passion for his union and echoed my thoughts on the bad public relations move by AirTran. He said unions don’t create bad public relations; in fact, they try to uphold a professional image. Tim’s communicated his appreciation for his brotherhood loudly and clearly along with pride for his expertise and profession. While all unions are different, he said, the pipefitters local strives to uphold its credibility.
What it always boils down to is the almighty dollar when it comes to union negotiations. Regardless, consumers, and passengers in this case, will always suffer so someone gets paid more.
As for public relations and the AirTran image, well, I think you can form your own idea of what a poor move that was on New Year’s Day 2011 for future business.