• Fri
  • Aug 1, 2014
  • Updated: 9:21am
Mr. Shangkong
PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 12:47am

Cathay and Dragonair fail the test in crisis management

As Usagi approaches HK, both airlines have let passengers down by not offering help in rescheduling flights or being available to answer inquiries


George Chen is the financial editor and columnist at the South China Morning Post. George has covered China's financial industry and economic reforms since 2002. George is the author of Foreign Banks in China. He muses about the interplay between Shanghai and Hong Kong in Mr. Shangkong columns every Monday in print and online. Follow George on Twitter: @george_chen

A good airline is definitely not only about new planes and beautiful airport lounges, but also about customer service, in particular in difficult times.

From this point of view, Cathay Pacific Airways and sister company Dragonair are far from being good carriers - at least not in days of bad weather.

Both Hong Kong-headquartered airlines announced on Saturday that they would halt all flights in and out of the city from 6pm on Sunday as Severe Typhoon Usagi roared towards here. They said they made the decision after consulting in-house weather experts.

The city's tourism executives described the decision as a surprise. Airlines usually cancel certain flights affected by bad weather during a very specific time slot, rather than all flights.

Of course, the most important thing for any airline operator and its passengers is safety. My 6pm Dragonair flight on Sunday was cancelled, too, but I could totally understand.

What made me and perhaps many other passengers worried was that Cathay and Dragonair seemed to have done just half their jobs.

The first half was to tell the affected passengers their flights were cancelled. However, the more important second half of the job for any airline proud to call itself very good is to help passengers reschedule their flights, or at least make sure they can reach its representative to seek further information.

Both Cathay and Dragonair failed to do the "second half" of their jobs.

I began calling the hotline listed on Dragonair's website for inquiries about the typhoon at 6pm on Saturday, right after the two airlines announced the flight cancellations. Until 10pm, I didn't have any luck getting through because the hotline was way too busy.

My phone record shows I attempted to call more than 100 times but I still failed.

Dragonair and Cathay in fact shared the same hotline number.

During the time when I was making the calls, I also tried to log on to the Dragonair website to reschedule my flight myself. The system first told me my flight - 6pm on Sunday to Shanghai - was "confirmed", but on another webpage it said the flight was "cancelled", and when I tried to reschedule, the website went down, citing internal system error.

Other passengers had the same problems.

I thought I might be just unlucky, so I posted a comment on my Facebook and Weibo pages. (By the way, Cathay also has an official Facebook page, which was full of complaints from customers about their failure to contact the airline on Saturday evening.)

I got comments from several of my friends who had tried to rebook flights and failed. One of my friends, a senior manager at the Hong Kong stock exchange, was stuck in Thailand. For hours, he couldn't get any help from Cathay to reschedule and gave up eventually.

He turned to AirAsia, the regional low-cost airline, and got a ticket.

Any crisis is an opportunity to stand out and send a clear message to your clients that "we're different". And your clients will be more loyal to you from then on. Neither Cathay or Dragonair met this test.


George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in the print version of the SCMP. Like it? Visit facebook.com/mrshangkong


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This article is now closed to comments

I totally agree with Mr. Chen. A few months ago, I had a problem contacting Cathay in the Philippines. I called the reservations number and was advised by recorded message that all staff were busy and with that, promptly cut off. I tried multiple times with the same result. A call to the Marco Polo Club's toll free line yielded dismal results. Cutting off paying passengers, badly handling their inquiries, and having management that insulates itself from customers is no way to win friends and influence people.
It's time for Cathay to shape up its customer service.
Never realized that whining and moaning passes for journalism these days. Come SCMP, pull up your socks a bit. How about comparisons with other airlines. Get some facts and statistics first before you conclude that CX/KA "failed".
Cat Pac/ Dragon Air has been and continued to be one (two) of the best airline in terms of service. It was "the worse typhoon of the year" !! What do you expect??? Business as usual?? Calling them 100 times during a such a time to for "inquiries about the typhoon"??? Why don't you just turn on the TV or go on the web? All you ever need to know about the typhoon is there I am sure.
unprofessional....only use your own experience without any statistic to support the views. I was very disappointed to read this article in SCMP..
This guy and Chugani should be fired for using their columns to air their personal problems. Chugani complains about his landlord and the high rent he pays, and this guy complains that a company doesn't answer his phone calls. Where did these guys learn their form of "journalism".?
private rant. Unprofessional.
This isn't journalism, it's editorialism. This is what editorial columns are for. It's not meant to be hard news.
what has this got to do with Financial services reporting ?
shxt happens.
I sincerely hope Chen did not get paid for this private moan
One presumes that if every passenger 'made over 100 calls to the hotline' it would be overwhelmed
SCMP has been hyping the approach of Super killer Typhoon Usagi for days including its speed & path - he should have had made contingency alternative bookings beforehand like most experienced & sensible air travelers
Chen pouts 'a senior manager of the stock exchange ' (wow is that to impress ?) got a ticket on Air Asia - what did he do with that ticket since HK airport was closed ?
Utter garbage reporting.
John Adams
@ dynamco
I agree with you. No-one living in HK nor staying here en route could fail to have heard that a monster typhoon was on its way. The news was out on Saturday morning ( if not earlier) that HKIA would be shut from 18.00 PM Sunday for 24 hours.
No-one in their right minds would go to the airport on Sunday PM expecting their evening flights to be leaving.
But on the other hand the columnist is correct that CX and KA's hotlines are a joke.
Deep frozen lines would be a more correct description. When I have had need to use them ( and even the VIP Marco Polo club members "hot line") I have given up in frustration after a hour of calling.
Thank you George for pointing out CX and DragonAir failure to manage the situation. I had the exact same experience. An airline which claims to be one of the best and charge a premium for it should know that it is in situation like this that you win or lose the loyalty of your customers. I can understand that they were obviously overwhelmed, but they made the situation worst by not having a plan in place on how to handle it. Despite leaving my contact details, I never received a communication from them the flight was cancelled. I received on Sunday at 13:00 an email asking me to leave my details for rescheduling preferences, and then I was never contacted. The website was down and did not allow for rescheduling, but they kept directing people to the website. It will take some time and some effort from them before I will trust them again and look at them as one if the best airlines in the world.




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