Insincere statements are the stuff of nightmares for travel firms, says Bob Morrell, managing director of Reality Training

I’ve been prompted to write this after boarding a train to London. After a couple of stops the guard’s voice announces the following; ‘We’re sorry for the late running of this service, this is due to passenger flow on and off the train.’

Me and several passengers looked at each other, we hadn’t heard that one before. ‘Passenger Flow’. Modern trains have two double doors per carriage that swing open and the passengers step off and on. Any disruption to ‘flow’ must be because there are fewer doors than passengers?

Either that or someone within the rail company has said ‘We need to have some vague reasons for late running that defers complaints as we’re getting too many, which are costing us money.’ So, some bright spark said; ‘give them something about passenger flow – then it’s not entirely our fault.’.

This is the problem with travel apologies, they’re poorly considered, terribly worded and achieve nothing more than to draw attention to an already frustrating journey. On a recent flight we were delayed and forced to sit on the tarmac for 40 minutes with the usual trite excuse (missed our slot – no, we didn’t – you did, Mr Airline.) and we then got the standard ‘and we apologise for any inconvenience caused’.

It’s an apology, an acknowledgement of a failing. And they’re also broadening it well beyond the confines of the plane – and making it for ANY inconvenience caused. And the scale of the inconvenience could be tiny, or massive, missing a wedding, an appointment, etc. So, the apology, grammatically and technically, really is a good ‘catch all’.

The real question is; If you’re a travel company that says this, just how sorry are you?

Firstly, you don’t sound sorry. The tone is entirely bland. And let’s be really clear – it’s the airline that has failed hundreds of people, who have been let down through their expectation of a stated and advertised time, which the airline chose to commit to! We didn’t make the timetable up – they did – so perhaps they’re sorry for being over optimistic?

Secondly, they’re not sorry, because if you were sorry to someone you cared about you would do something to make it up to them. Where’s the tray of complementary drinks – by way of an apology? I know, if I can be bothered, within certain guidelines that I really don’t care about, I could fill in a form and get some form of refund but they’re banking on me being too lazy to do that, which I am. I’d rather get where I’m going on time.

We have no choice but to accept the apology. That ‘apologise for any inconvenience caused’ is worse than a simple ‘I’m really sorry about this.’

This is a sad travel apology, that someone, back in the mists of time, thought was a good idea, and now everyone uses it. From any customer service perspective this line is the stuff of nightmares. As a company, we try and train companies out of using these habits for all of these reasons. But no-one needs training to work out this is the wrong thing to say! You don’t mean it – so say something else!