This week I was on the road, and the wonderful airline that I use almost all of the time had some problems–an entire flight was cancelled and 100 passengers needed alternative travel plans. Comfortably settled in and waiting for my on-time flight, I was able to observe the displaced passengers, and how the airline handled the challenge.


The passengers’ reactions to the cancelled flight, as you might expect, were varied. Most passengers were quiet and patient as they were re-booked on other flights. Some shook their heads in frustration, and one “lady,” well, she was just off the rails. Little thing that she was, she screamed and shouted. She paced up and down the line of passengers–attempting to incite them to riot. She was the Lech Walesa of Gate A-11 at BWI, minus the meaningful cause. It is difficult to follow a leader advocating: “Yes, let’s get on the broken plane and fly!”


Wanting to justify my fun in observing during my work day, I decided to draw some continuing education conclusions from the event I was witnessing. First, the type and number of reactions I was seeing easily translates to a problem in a continuing education program–in person or online: the webcast starts late; the sound goes out; the air conditioning is broken, or the food is not on time. For the most part, your audience understands the situation. A few of them may shake their heads, and usually one in the crowd is off the rails. “What do you mean the temperature is set at 72 degrees? It should be 68 degrees!” You know the one. So here is the first conclusion: keep the problem in perspective. It isn’t the end of the world, most folks understand, and you now have an opportunity to fix the problem the right way.

Second conclusion: as CE providers, we can learn from the example of this airline (and not ALL airlines). Here’s what I saw…


  • Within minutes, additional staff was at the gate to assist. Call in the troops!
  • Passengers were given details about the problem and how it was to be solved–including some choices: “There were 100 of you on the cancelled flight to Hartford. I can get 57 of you on the next flight to Hartford. I can get 33 of you on the next flight after that to Hartford. For the remaining passengers, I can get you on a plane that goes to Tampa then to Hartford, but you don’t get home until 11 p.m. or, I can get you in on earlier flights that go places close to Hartford.” Communication and choice!
  • There was “fairness” in the resolution. “The alternative air arrangements will be given out in the order you checked in with this flight.” The early bird continues to get the worm!
  • We understand you were inconvenienced. “Here is a $200 travel voucher.” We’re sorry, and please fly with us again!
  • Last, we appreciate you, and we’re telling the world over the loudspeaker. “Thank you for understanding and being patient.”


Not a bad plan of action for something gone wrong: Call in the troops. Communicate. Provide choices. Be fair in the resolution. We’re sorry. Give us another chance. If you don’t have a plan of action for program disasters–create one with your staff. I suggest you know what you are going to do before things go SOUTHwest.



Donita Bourns Douglas
Vice President, Professional Services