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Next entry: Cenotaph under snow

Previous entry: Snowy sunset on the North Downs

Monday, 20 December 2010


And so snow strikes chaos in the UK, in a way that a terrorist attack could never.  I was reading some accounts of passengers experiences and a few things struck me. A common refrain seems to be:

It’s not the weather that’s the problem, it’s the way they’ve handled the people…..
We’ve been left to fend for ourselves.

I too have had similar experiences at UK airports. The ones that stick in my mind are the storm in 2000 when my flight was delayed 24 hours and I was stranded at Gatwick airport, and the time when my late-night flight into the UK was delayed en route for 2 hours and by the time we disembarked the baggage handlers’ shift had finished and they had gone home.  (Our baggage was delivered the following day). A common thread in my experiences has been airline and airport staff who don’t know how to handle emergencies and unhappy customers. They appeared reluctant to give us full information about the nature of the problem, they did not want to discuss the situation, they did not want to hear customer complaints, and they were generally unhelpful.


A year ago today (almost) I was stuck at railway stations and airports in the Netherlands due to a severe snowstorm. I spent two days trekking across the (little) country and although I was inconvenienced my way was always smoothed by the staff who knew how to deal with complaints and angry passengers. I was frustrated and (am sorry to say now) that I took out my frustrations at the people who were trying to make the passengers’ lives less miserable.  I also noticed other people “ranting” at the airport/railway staff but the staff handled us at all times with aplomb. They showed empathy for their customers. Various people have put forward definitions for empathy, such as:

The capacity to know emotionally what another is experiencing from within the frame of reference of that other person, the capacity to sample the feelings of another or to put one’s self in another’s shoes.
[D. M. Berger]

A sense of similarity in feelings experienced by the self and the other, without confusion between the two individuals.
[Jean Decety]

An affective response that stems from the apprehension or comprehension of another’s emotional state or condition, and that is similar to what the other person is feeling or would be expected to feel.
[Nancy Eisenberg]

To empathize means to share, to experience the feelings of another person.
[R. R. Greenson]

The ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another person to understand her emotions and feelings. 
[Alvin Goldman]

An affective response more appropriate to another’s situation than one’s own. 
[Martin Hoffman]

These definitions also make me think of Emotional Inteligence.  Is it not time that businesses in the UK started to teach their employees to empathise with their customers?  Apparently this should start with the managers learning to empathise with their staff.

Posted by bigblue on 20/12/2010 at 07:42 AM
Filed under: EuropeNetherlands • (1) CommentsPermalinkBookmark or Share

Its probably too much to hope for. A few years ago my daughter flew by British Airways instead of Olympic Airways, because it was a cheap strudent flight and the promised her a free stopover in London on her return - whcih never happened because they denied her boarding her Athens flight, and she was stranded in London with no money. It wasn’t a snow storm, it wasn’t terrorists, it was the staff of British Airways who made the cock-up. But whether it is their fault or not, helpfulness is too much to expect.

Posted by SteveH  on  07/01/2011  at  02:43 PM

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