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Managing Passenger Expectations: Communicate and Offer Options

The food was disappointing. The flight’s late. No limo. “Minorca? We’re supposed to be going to Majorca.” When your passengers are frustrated, what do you say?

“Managing expectations comes down to reminding people that we’re working to get them where they need to be on time,” says Eric Canup, senior vice president and head of flight operations at Live Oak Bank.

Canup, a former chair of NBAA’s Domestic Operations Committee, manages two mid-size jets and a team of nine pilots for Live Oak.

“With weather we can generally forecast,” and make flight plan changes, if necessary,” says Canup. “If safety is compromised, we take a step back.”

“Communicate and be able to offer options,” says John Tuten, former chief pilot at Honeywell International in North Carolina and former chair of NBAA’s International Operations Committee, now piloting a G650 for a business client in New York.

“We always have contingencies,” he says. When issues with ATC or the weather made landing at Honeywell’s Charlotte Douglas (CLT) hub undesirable, the neighboring Concord (JQF) or Monroe (EQY) airports could work.

“We would have drivers positioned at those other airports,” Tuten says.

“Every account is different, every client is different,” says Brian Moss, vice president for flight scheduling and client logistics at California-based Solairus Aviation, who handles a managed fleet of some 320 aircraft ranging from helicopters to intercontinental jets.

He notes that problems have eased since support players were caught flat-footed by the pace of post-pandemic recovery. “Vendors did not have the staff,” Moss says. “Everything from caterers to ground transportation to FBOs on the ground.”

Now, “things have improved,” says Moss. “And if there’s a problem on the ground, or with the food, we advocate on behalf of our clients with vendors.”

The most challenging season is summer, Moss says, particularly for trips to Europe. Passengers may be unhappy due to capacity problems at busy summer destinations.

In Europe, “airports are slot-controlled. You need a reservation to arrive and a reservation to park, adds Tuten.

Reservations can usually be made only seven to 10 days in advance, or maybe two weeks, he says. “You’re faced with trying to make plans without knowing whether you’ll be able to park your jet.” Often you must reposition to park somewhere other than your passengers’ destination.

When passengers must be told of a problem, says Moss, they also should be presented with alternatives: “We do everything we can to provide options,” he says. “It is important to be transparent with our clients, explain the challenges. They trust us to keep them safe and execute their trips as flawlessly as possible.”

With some 2,000 pilots, Solairus takes care to make sure its crews know how to manage passenger expectations. “We do a lot of scenario-based training,” Moss says.

“We find that if we communicate with passengers, tell them what we’re doing to solve the problem, they understand,” says Canup. “Especially if we can give them an alternative.”

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