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4/02/2009 – What An Airline Should Never Say To Calm Passengers Down
This morning while reading the London Daily Mail I was reminded of an event that was initially reported on the 28th of December. On the 28th of December 2008 Aeroflot (SU) Flight 315, flying from New York’s JFK (JFK) to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo (SVO) was delayed when Captain Alexander Cheplevsky started his pre-flight announcement with completely slurred speech, as Capt. Cheplevsky switched to English his speech continued to slur.
The passengers convinced Capt. Cheplevsky was intoxicated began complaining while the aircraft was at the gate. Passengers complained to the in-flight crew, word spread to the ground crew and passengers began calling Aeroflot’s headquarters. Eventually an Aeroflot representative boarded the flight to address the growing panic among passengers.
Once the Aeroflot representatives boarded the flight is when the real public relations nightmare began. When there is a problem on board a flight an airline needs to comfort the passengers and assure then they are addressing the problem. What happened on board SU-Flight 315 was the complete opposite of comforting to the passengers seating on-board the Boeing 767-300, waiting to depart for the 10-hour & 15-minute flight.
When representatives from Aeroflot began addressing the concerned passengers they advised them to “stop making trouble.” When passengers suggested the Captain be removed from the cockpit the airline told the passengers they had the option to stay on board for the flight or get off the plane.
As panic turned to a quasi-revolt of the passengers the Aeroflot Passenger Services Representative said the one thing an airline should never say to passengers, much less a plane load of passengers. In an effort to calm the passengers down this Aeroflot representative announced “It is not such a big deal. Really, all he has to do is press a button and the plane flies itself. The worst that could happen is he’ll trip over something in the cockpit.”
For future reference, this is NOT a good way to calm people down on a plane!
After three hours of arguing with Aeroflot’s’ flight crew and representatives, more than 100 passengers signed a statement stating they believed Capt. Cheplevsky was intoxicated and unfit to fly the aircraft.
Eventually Aeroflot called in a backup crew who were in New York, the plane took off without incident and Capt. Cheplevsky’s blood alcohol level was checked out. Capt. Cheplevsky did not appear to have any alcohol in his system. Doctors believe Capt. Cheplevsky suffered a minor stroke during his pre-flight and was not aware that he had suffered a stroke.
While Aeroflot is conducting an internal investigation into Capt Cheplevsky’s refusal to give up his command of SU-Flight 315, they really should investigate how the situation was handled on the ground.
Airlines are not always known for great customer service, but the chain of events that lead to the removal of Capt. Cheplevsky are mind-boggling.