Wanted: Staff with hospitality experience and intestinal fortitude

Fellow HOTELS bloggers’ Tony and Jason Potter’s post about their November British Airways flight has stuck in my mind. And with the numerous weather events causing my own U.S. travel interruptions recently, it occurred to me that we rarely recognize the importance of hiring people who possess intestinal fortitude. It takes a certain type of mental toughness to deal with the irate customers who are less than considerate to those employees trying to rebook flights, check in stranded passengers and serve a rush of hungry, thirsty, delayed customers.  

The media will report the data — the number of canceled flights or occupancy of airport hotels crammed with stranded guests — and run the ubiquitous interview with the passenger sleeping on his or her luggage in the airport. Without question, the inconvenience, cost and stress of travelers during weather emergencies is often nightmarish and the pain real. But I was struck during the weather-induced travel delays of early 2014 how media stories rarely herald the job that travel and hospitality staff do for guests during these periods.

Forced to stay at an airport hotel during a mid-trip delay, I observed the long lines for the shuttles, the subsequent drawn-out queues at check-in and crowds of thirsty, hungry guests at restaurant entrances. I also witnessed many raised voices, exasperated sighs and incredulous questions directed toward gate agents, customer representatives and front-desk staff as if these employees created the weather, filled all the rooms and decided on the policies affecting the displaced travelers — personally. Some frustrated travelers became belligerent. Whereas customer service is always critical to our industry, these situations demand special qualities from persons capable of delivering under adverse conditions while enduring their own emotional stress during these travel disruptions.

Hopefully hospitality supervisors, managers and leaders take the time to give a special “shout-out,” thank-you email or other recognition for those on the front lines who serve the hordes of supremely exasperated travelers. My husband and I thank all the hospitality employees that served us with grace and empathy recently and for staying cool amidst the chaos.

If you are dealing with guests in these circumstances, what is your secret for staying calm and collected? Is there a secret to hiring a particular type of employee especially talented in dealing in these situations? How do you lead or train your hotel and service staff for these weather-induced problems? What is your pre-shift pep talk, or what post-event praise might you offer?