CeCe and I are sitting on American flight 1206 about ten minutes before our scheduled take off. We are flying home today from a wonderful week in Montana where we have fished the Yellowstone River, Tom Miner Creek at Hubbard Yellowstone Lodge and attended the HORNE Partner Summit in Big Sky. What a fabulous week! But we are tired and ready to get home. You know that feeling where, above all else, get me home to my bed and my house and of course, Oliver. Then we see the captain come out of the cockpit and grab the microphone which is never a good sign. Here’s a quick recap:
“Folks, this is Captain Scott Shankland, I want to inform you that we have a mechanical issue with this plane and your safety is our utmost concern. During my checklist, I found something that concerns me on engine one. That is the engine on the left side of the plane. I have called maintenance to come check it out. Now I have been flying for over 30 years so I can usually tell if this is going to be a 20-minute delay or several hours. As soon as I know, I will share this with you and if it is going to be a long delay, I will let you immediately deplane. My experience says this might be bad news for all of us. Let’s don’t get down, let’s all hope for the best. As bad as I want to get you to Dallas on time, your safety is my first concern. I’m going to deplane and meet the ground maintenance crew so I can see for myself as well as relay what the situation is as soon as I can. Thank you for your patience and think positive.”
As he hung up the microphone, the groans could be heard everywhere. CeCe looks at me and says, “Can you believe this?” As I reflected on the Captain’s announcement, I whispered to CeCe, that was one of the best announcements of news we did not want that I have ever heard from an airline or captain. He looked us in the eye, took ownership of the situation, he was so transparent with what was going on and he gave us some hope that we may still make the flight. What we have just seen is too rare today — that was awesome customer service.
As I hear some grumbling around us, I couldn’t help but share the observations about how we were being treated by the captain and that I felt valued and informed. Several of the passengers around me paused and agreed. Yes, not the situation we want but he did an amazing job of telling us straight and taking charge of the situation. By this time, the captain has come back onboard and we are all bracing for the bad news.
“Well folks, it’s not often that I am wrong about these situations, but I am and the great news is that we are going to finish our preflight check and take off in the next 15 minutes. We will do our best to make up some time so that those that have connections will have a chance to make those. It was a heater panel that was missing on the engine and after we talked with central maintenance, they informed us that that specific piece of equipment had been intentionally removed and would have no effect on the flight or the performance of the engine. We got lucky today and thanks for staying positive as we worked this out. Let’s get on our way to Dallas.”
Shouts of joy are everywhere on the plane and the loudest one is right next to me as CeCe is ecstatic. I’m pretty pumped, too, and again, I am marveling at the transparency and thoroughness of the captain’s follow-up announcement. He not only shared the good news, he made sure we knew why it was okay to take off and how diligent American’s entire maintenance/safety team had been looking into our situation.
Thanks, Captain Shankland, for your amazing service, leadership, transparent communications and value of your passengers. It was a joy flying with you!