NAY PYI TAW, 6 February 2015: It’s a crisp cool dawn, perfect weather for a sortie around Nay Pyi Taw’s brand new airport. They say the early bird catches the worm, but one particular bird flying from its nest this particular morning will catch far more than breakfast.
A Golden Myanmar captain fires up the A320-200 for a routine flight from Yangon to Nay Pyi Taw airport to pick up 179 ASEAN Tourism Forum delegates in a hurry to return home after a week-long trade show. It’s going to be a long day.
Buses pick-up delegates from hotels as early as 0300 arriving at the slick-looking airport a good one hour and 20 minutes before the flight is due to depart at 0520. Restaurants and coffee station are closed in this carpeted airport that looks as if it has jumped fresh out of the pages of an Ikea catalogue section called ‘choose your perfect airport.’
The bird soars over the runway, steady speed, and eyes peeled ready for a sighting. Grey shape up ahead. That was the bird’s last thought.
The A320 captain curses as the bird strikes dead centre on the nose cone, just seconds before the wheels touch down. There goes the quick turnaround and day flying to a schedule. Radar hidden inside the nose cone goes on the blink.
Passengers itching to get on their way watch as the aircraft taxis to a halt at the airbridge, the enormous dent in the cone clearly visible from the departure hall.
No one is going anywhere on this A320. Radar knocked out it will take hours to repair.
Just one bird on the wrong flight path and Golden Myanmar watches helplessly as a chain reaction unfolds that will scuttle its flights for the remainder of the day. Despite all of its finely crafted promotions at ATF it will be this day delegates will recall when they exchange airline horror stories.
Golden Myanmar was a victim, so was the bird. Now it was our turn. First it was the long wait admittedly in a fine airport, trillion light years ahead of Yangon in décor and passenger comfort. But we were all thinking about lost connections, layovers and delays far from home.
By 0900, four hours into the pantomime we were hungry. A single airline checker attempted to maintain order. She was near to tears, unable to cope with a bunch of travel professionals who should have known better than browbeat a youngster. She was probably told a career in tourism and travel was so romantic. Then she met the ATF rabble.
Experts say crisis management starts with feeding the victims; settling them down in a lounge and keeping them as far away from those who are working on solutions.
Golden Myanmar failed on all accounts. They urgently needed a course in crisis management. One bird strike and they were floored. It took two hours to rustle up food and despite opening a CIP lounge, the staff remained ambushed at the departure gate, unable to offer any pertinent information.
Five hours after the bird strike, two ATRs taxied to the airbridges to take 134 passengers to Yangon airport who needed to connect with flights to Singapore or Bangkok. Most of them would have to catch onward flights to their home countries from the two gateways.
But the chaos simply transferred, at 1100, from the plush airport of Nay Pyi Taw to the congested terminal at Yangon without the CIP lounge and tepid tea.
Golden Myanmar’s Yangon staff spent most of the day jotting down the same passenger information over and over again. In Yangon they claimed the staff in Nay Pyi Taw had failed to forward details.
Again there were shouting matches in the passenger terminals as irate travel professionals let off steam and showed they can be the world’s worst travellers when all the props and perks fail.
In the chaos there were some bright moments, mainly when an older airline staff member, with considerable customer service experience told them to shut up.
“Stand over there, and wait to see if there is a free seat,” she scolded those who dared to raise their voices.
But the day’s fiasco showed how you could invest a fortune in an airline an overlook the fact that the young people you recruit need lots of training.
Golden Myanmar dug deep into its pocket and bought new tickets for those who had missed their connection to Bangkok, or Singapore. They were a priority as they all had onward flights to catch to Europe, Australia and Japan.
But for around 20 passengers the only alternative was to stay overnight at the dusty oasis called Season, a hotel just across the street, hidden by a cloud of dust drifting from the nearby new terminal construction site.
By 2200 the chaos slipped away as quickly as it came.
As I sipped a chilled beer in the dusty Seasons., two weary travellers staggered into the lobby.
“What a day,” they exclaimed. “It’s gone, the entire day, and all we did was travel from Hebo”
“Sit down and tell me all about it,” I said suspecting I already knew the story. “Let me guess you were booked on Golden Myanmar. Two ATRs failed to turn up and you have been kicking dust at a dreadful airport all day watching airline staff flee the scene?”
“Spot on, how did you…” they asked.
“It’s a long story, but it starts with a bird that didn’t look where it was flying.”
We can all learn from the bird’s fatal mistake. We need to look ahead and when a crisis is about to hit us, duck and dive while we grab the crisis management plan fast.
First paragraph; feed them, water them and tell them it’s the end of the world, but more information will be available. They will smile and take another sip of free coffee…. Funny guy!