I return to this (oft recurring) theme as a result of an experience returning to Birmingham Airport from a Norwegian coastal cruise and a sighting of the Northern Lights. One more off the bucket list.
On the plane home, one of the passengers becomes ill. A doctor on board does what he can, which is not a great deal: he thinks she has appendicitis (which I myself endured six months ago) and the pilot radios ahead for an ambulance to meet the plane (we presume). The passenger in question is near the front just a couple of rows in front of me.
We land and are asked to stay in our seats while the medics arrive and do their stuff.
After about ten minutes the fire crew rock up. They’re obviously billeted at the airport and are first responders in any sort of emergency. They have oxygen to help the lady breathe more easily and manage the pain a bit, but not much else.
50 minutes later, still no ambulance and the natives are getting restless. Notwithstanding the poor woman’s discomfort, why cannot the rest of us disembark, while she awaits the ambulance? More to the point, why could the airport not get a second pair of steps to the back of the plane, so we can all go out backwards and not inconvenience the doctors (not that they are doing much, it has to be said).
Finally it is decreed that we can make an orderly exit, a dozen at a time, past the woman who has now been moved to a window seat to facilitate our egress. I am luckily in one of the first dozen and have been witnessing this farrago at almost first hand. It’s not over yet though.
We get in to the terminal to find the baggage conveyor halted, overloaded by all the unclaimed bags which are strewn everywhere (not everyone’s is in plain sight, though luckily mine is), and the whole sorry spectacle is being viewed anxiously by a plane load of Brummy Anglo-Indians whose own incoming luggage has clearly also been indicated to arrive on the same carousel. No one from the authorities (whoever they are) is in attendance to be of any help.
The point of this unfortunate sequence of events is not to berate the ambulance service: they are under quite enough pressure from under-funding throughout the health service, but seriously – an hour, and still no blue light in sight?
It is, however, to berate the airport. I know for a fact that many people, including me, rate the ease of access and the quality of service you generally get when you fly out of Birmingham – when everything goes according to plan.
When something throws a spanner in the works though, as here, who actually takes charge and makes things happen? Surely there must be a manual which dictates who does what when a plane lands with an ill passenger on board? It can’t be that rare an occurrence, if the load of old crumblies on my flight is anything to go by.
It’s all very well having a comprehensive operations manual, and regular readers of this column will recognise it as a recurring theme in my (now increasingly sporadic) rants, but is the system robust enough when something does not go to plan or some operative fails to pick up the baton which someone else has dropped?
We all know that no manual can cover every eventuality, though I’d be surprised if “Ill passenger” doesn’t feature in any airport’s. But how well are your people trained to take the initiative and just get things done when the brown stuff is flying around. Not quite literally in this case, but you get my drift.
Our 300+ passengers were considerably inconvenienced as a result of an inadequate response to what should have been a relatively minor medical issue, and the baggage handling failed to deal with the consequences.
For those of you who know the statistics on complaints – which have been tested to destruction over the years – fewer than one in ten will have actually made a complaint, but 100% will tell at least ten more of their adverse opinions, and all those will tell plenty more.
As a result, ten thousand or more people will be a little less sanguine about flying in and out of Birmingham than they were a month ago, and confidence – as Oxfam will attest all too readily – is a fickle mistress which takes years to build up and a few ill-judged moments to destroy.
If your business has an Ops Manual (if there’s more than just a couple of you, it surely should), then every now and again I’d recommend you give it a workout with a few “What if” scenarios. And don’t be afraid to be imaginative.
I’m only working on an occasional basis these days, following my dice with death three years ago (though it seems like no more than one, tops). Hence the sporadic nature of these missives: only when I’ve got something interesting to say. Well, I guess you’ll be the judge of that.
Still, every now and then, the phone goes with an interesting project I’m too tempted to pass on. So don’t write me off entirely.