I wouldn’t say I am a Delta aficionado. Even so, I was struck by the extent, to which Delta devotees appeared totally unsurprised by the sequence of events leading to the cancellation of the flight. To the initiated, it constituted a rude awakening to what being accepting of unreliability looked like.
By the time Delta officials had the courage to finally concede that the flight had been cancelled, I had been travelling for twenty two and a half hours and by the time, I personally made my way to the New York Branch of Double Tree hotel after giving up on the hotel shuttle service after two hours outside, I had been travelling for over twenty four straight hours without sleep!
Delta’s excuses were second only to the stories I fabricate when my daughter calls for “one hundred stories.”
First they said the plane was undergoing maintenance which necessitated a shift from a ten pm departure to 1230 am departure. At this point, Delta loyalists told me they had seen this before and that the strategy would be to keep shifting the time and keeping hope alive until people realized they had been kept waiting for over six hours.
After 1230am, the maintenance line was running very thin so they upgraded the story to that of a new plane being taxied in from terminal two, at which point they started issuing new boarding passes. Just as people were getting their hopes up after hours of waiting and being tossed from one boarding Gate to the other, came the grand announcement, “… sorry to announce that the flight crew has exceeded their time, so we are going to have to reschedule the flight to tomorrow.” In other words, it is about the crew, not the passengers! Plus, not a word about pending logistics arrangements until the people erupted into an uproar. And then another announcement in which the impression was created that another airplane may soon be commandeered. After a second uproar, police were summoned during which accommodation plans for the night and a second flight to depart at 500pm later that day were announced.
At the hotel, the front desk official was more interested in absolving herself from any responsibility for the early morning mishaps than in proactively addressing my sleep deprivation concerns.
“Sir, I did my job. I called the driver and told them you said you were waiting.” I had no option than to conclude that she had never heard of Russell Ackoff’s famous statement that “If each part of a system, considered separately, is made to operate as efficiently as possible, then the system as a whole will NOT operate as efficiently as possible.” In other words, if the Double Tree front desk official does the most brilliant job of calling the chauffeur who chooses not to show up, then the hotel as a whole assumes the unenviable status of a lousy enterprise. Who cares about whether or not you made your call? I am the client and I am stranded! But of course all this assumes that the hotel has trained its staff to see themselves, their words and deeds as part of a whole and contributing to the same goal of meeting client’s expectations. Wrong assumption on my part!
From what I saw, both Delta and Double Tree cannot be described as high reliability organizations which are distinguished by their ability to mount failure free operations over time. How could they when even Delta faithful lamented how often this happened to them with one counseling, “As for Delta, if you have a same day meeting, never use them.” In the case of the Double Tree transportation service, their own colleague drivers from other companies testified about their appalling track record. “They often take very long before they come and pick their clients!”
On the assumption that Delta and Double Tree aspire to greater reliability in their services, they will have to consider the Institute for HealthCare Improvement’s three-tiered strategy for redesigning based on analysis of failure modes; namely prevention, identification and mitigation. Explained further, this means redesigning their current system to prevent failure, designing procedures and relationships to make failures visible when they do occur so that they may be intercepted before causing harm and leading to loss of business. It also means designing procedures and building capabilities for fixing failures when they are identified or stopping the harm caused by failures when they are not detected and intercepted. In the experience of clients, the two organizations displayed very little of these; not predictive, not proactive and hardly anticipatory of client needs, but rather touting 50 dollar vouchers as if they would make all the difference!