Mr. Shangkong

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

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 12:47am

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