“Carriers in general could do a better job of communicating,” admits one airline spokesperson. “In fact, you might say it’s difficult to over communicate.” Admittedly, however, there’s the proverbial can of worms when it comes to full disclosure; lawsuits can arise from what appear to be harmless, even helpful, remarks or actions. And there’s little benefit to overwhelming people with the arcana of aircraft operations. Layering things in technical mumbo-jumbo can leave people suspicious and shaking their heads. “If you try to get too technical about something,” adds the spokesperson, “it can come across as serious when it’s actually routine. My sense is that most customers would like to have timely updates about a delay, and a general, honest sense of what caused it. Beyond that, I don’t think drilling down into a lot of details adds much.”
He may have a point. When those aboard jetBlue flight 292 were faced with a stuck undercarriage and an impending emergency landing back in 2005 (see jetBlue incident), the crew made every effort to let customers know they were in very little danger. Yet rather than accept this, according to some who were there, many passengers assumed the pilots were lying. I receive letters all the time from people accusing airline staff of falsifying the “truth” of supposedly life-threatening situations. However wrong, it’s a notion that’s deeply ingrained.
Perhaps at the heart of the matter, though, is the simple fact that carriers pay little penalty for acting as their own worst enemies. Fostering and reinforcing skewed perceptions of air travel has little effect on their balance sheets. Profitability is another issue altogether, but planes remain full, and a majority of people, intellectually if not emotionally, grasp that flying is safe. Why stir the pot?