An airline under attack

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Saudia Airlines, the Kingdom’s national carrier, has recently come under increasing attack by critics on social media due to an extraordinary number of flight delays that began just before the month of Ramadan. Critics sharpened their pens against the entire management of the airline as they poured their scorn on various social media sites calling for massive changes. Accusations were hurled as airline personnel were desperate to correct an abnormal situation caused by a number of factors.

The airline immediately issued a public apology to its passengers for the delays in scheduled flights during the last few days, stressing that they were due to “exceptional circumstances”. The national carrier admitted that “several flights” were impacted due to the “heavy traffic period”. “During the peak seasons, Saudi Arabian Airlines operates a large number of additional flights to meet increased demand and the bad weather conditions have coincided with the emergence of some technical malfunctions, which affected some of the flights,” the airline said.

“This led to delays of some flights, which in turn affected the subsequent flights. The increase in the number of flights had a considerable effect in increasing the number of passengers impacted by the flight delays,” Saudia said.

To combat the abnormal situation, an emergency room was set up to prepare a plan to deal with the issue and restore normalcy. A team has also been formed to work round the clock to evaluate the situation and compensate passengers affected by the cancellation or delay in flights, in line with the relevant regulations, Saudia added.

In defense of the airline, I have to say that it is not always the airline’s fault when delays occur. Weather is a significant factor in any airlines on-time performance. Flight disruptions due to weather conditions are fairly common and the resulting delays while very inconvenient to the passenger are something that cannot be avoided.

What can add a contributing factor to flight delays is the very mechanism on which aircraft operate. One of them could be the machinery itself. Aircraft are machines and can and will occasionally break down, thus contributing to delays. This is a universal trend and not just limited to Saudia. Fortunately, Saudia has experienced few glitches or setbacks with its aircraft, especially as the fleet has been modernized.

Besides the aircraft, there are operational delays that are contributed by the airport itself. Are Immigration and Customs on the ball to expedite the flow of passengers? Quite often, long lines at these counters can contribute to flight delays no matter how hard airlines strive for an on-time departure.

The airport services may sometimes share the blame as passenger luggage is delayed going to or coming from the aircraft. No passenger likes to leave his luggage behind, and every once in a while the extraordinary number of flights can cause baggage personnel to get behind in their schedule.

And sometimes the problem is passengers themselves who take their time wandering through the departure halls before making their way to the boarding gates well beyond the final call.

Such are the factors that can and will change the on-time performance of any airline regardless of how hard an airline tries to maintain smooth operations. To blame them for such events is very unfair.

Following the turbulent events last week, Saudia publicly assured everyone that operational timetables had been restored. These operations are being monitored continuously under the turbulent weather conditions the Kingdom has been witnessing these days, it said.

Saudia Airlines has changed dramatically in the past few years. Under Saleh Al-Jasser, the CEO who was appointed in 2014, the airline has gone through tremendous positive changes and is becoming the first choice for many travelers. His pursuit of organizational agility and accountability has begun to have an effect as is evident by increased customer satisfaction and load factors. Morale is on the upswing, service has improved, passenger complaints have dropped, and the airline is finally getting on the right track. It has garnered global awards for the first time in its history and such distinctions can only be the result of the astute leadership of the organization.

It is highly unfair to look at recent events concerning flight delays and criticize the airline while dismissing all the forward progress the airline has achieved in the past few years. Quite often, those factors are beyond any airline’s control.

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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