Flight delay reveals room for improvement

Air crew handled incident well, but better planning could have made a better journey

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2016, 3:46pm

I was on a Cathay Pacific flight from Melbourne on August 14, the day after the typhoon, expecting to arrive in Hong Kong at 9.30pm. But we did not land in Hong Kong until 5.45am the next day after being diverted to Taipei due to air traffic congestion and a lack of fuel.

We were informed about an hour before the scheduled landing time in Hong Kong that there were many planes trying to land and we were in a queue, cruising with no time slot for landing. Hence, the pilot decided to divert to Taipei for refuelling.

In Taipei, we waited in the plane for five hours. You might have expected an uproar. But the passengers were co-operative and understanding.

Still, there are questions to be asked: could we have done better? The Airport Authority should have been able to anticipate how many planes would be trying to land after the typhoon. Why did they not advise some to postpone their take-offs to ease congestion?

If a delay was expected, could Cathay Pacific not have filled the tanks more so planes could cruise longer and queue for landing without having to divert somewhere else? Could there have been better arrangements for our five hours on the plane? This might have added to costs, but should cost-saving compromise passengers' safety and comfort?

That's how we can tell a good airline from an average one.

When the captain apologised for the delay after a safe landing, he not only praised the crew for making the flight smooth, he also paid tribute to the quality of the passengers. That is very true. It was the passengers' empathy that made the delay less stressful for everyone.

Our experience was not the only one of its kind that night. There were lots of other flight delays and diversions.

With today's technology, it would be simple for the air-traffic authorities to work out a new schedule and then advise travellers well in advance by text or e-mail that the flight would be delayed by five hours due to the unsafe traffic conditions.

As this was a safety issue, travellers would understand. The arrangement should help Cathay Pacific improve its customer-care policy and brand name. It would be case of turning a negative issue into positive action.

Travellers can do a lot more on the ground than being kept in the air. In our case, if there were 300 passengers on board, the cost of circling the sky for five hours would be 1,500 valuable hours for the customers and many others.

Good preparation and logistical arrangements are needed to avoid such wastage.

Cathay Pacific is the city's flagship airline and very much represents Hong Kong's image to the outside world. Some passengers were visiting Hong Kong for the first time; it would be desirable to give our visitors a good experience.

Hong Kong has to work harder to maintain its reputation for good service, and we should look for ways to improve ourselves.

Smiling faces are no substitute for hard work and committed service.

Paul Yip is a professor in the University of Hong Kong's social work and social administration department