You might want to think twice before booking with Jetsgo, if Penney Kome’s tale of stranded passengers at Pearson is any indication:

Other airlines called in more staff (and presumably paid overtime wages) to respond to the crisis. Not only did Jetsgo lack crew members for its plane, it had hardly anybody on the desk to deal with the throngs of angry passengers.

Worse, there was nobody answering phones at headquarters. Jetsgo is accessible only by a 1-800 number. Re-book? Return? The Jetsgo website is not equipped for those tasks. It is necessary to talk with a real live person. The only contact my family members heard from real live Jetsgo staff was a brave staff person who finally came out and told the waiting passengers that the flight was cancelled, and that they should leave and phone the airline the next day to rebook. Then she fled in tears.

I’ve had similar experiences — for example, when an entire flight’s luggage goes astray. Hours go by without a word from anyone in authority while tempers rise and patience evaporates.

There’s actually a lesson here for communications pros as well as discount airlines: don’t run from your screw-ups. Pratfalls happen, sometimes because of something you did or failed to do, sometimes because of factors completely outside your control.

Screw-ups are a chance to earn back a customer’s trust and a voter’s allegiance. Had Jetsgo sucked up a little overtime, they could have earned a place in passengers’ hearts as the airline that moved heaven and earth to get them where they were going, even if it was hours or days late.

And similarly, a politician or organization can earn a reputation for integrity and directness — not to mention the trust you generate when you own up to a mistake and then correct it.

Either way, half the battle lies in communicating what’s happened and what you’re doing to fix it.

Unfortunately, the first instinct most organizations have when something goes wrong is to sever the lines of communication. That IBM ad a few years ago captured it perfectly: two IT guys realize they’ve screwed up; their phones start ringing madly; one asks, “What do we do?” and the other says “Lock… the… doors.”

So politicians vanish behind tight-lipped spokespeople, corporations issue terse “no comment” statements, airlines leave stranded passengers to their own devices… and the story that gains momentum is the error, not the correction.

I hope StraightGoods runs a good distance with this story. Apart from the sheer karmic satisfaction of seeing Jetsgo suffer a little for the hell they put passengers through, it might actually teach them something about damage control.

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