HRO’s- A Fitting End

This week we repeatedly discussed how hospital safety culture must learn from high reliability organizations (HRO’s) such as the airline industry, nuclear power plants, and aircraft carriers. Just before my 90 minute shuttle from Telluride arrived at Montrose airport, I received an email communication from United Airlines notifying me that my flight had been cancelled due to “aircraft maintenance.” Unfortunately, the next flight out of Montrose would not be until ~6am the following morning. In the past, I would have been rather disgruntled with the airline and likely would have projected my anger and frustration onto the check-in staff over the cancellation much like the two gentlemen at the counter next to me. However, after our discussions of HRO’s and reading John Nance’s Why Hospitals Should Fly, I was disheartened at first knowing it would be one more day until I got to see my fiance and dog “Lu,” but then, surprisingly, I came to find a grin streaked across my face. “What a fitting end to an amazing week!” I thought to myself.  As United does not feel comfortable with the aircraft, they would rather have a few upset passengers who may leave bad reviews online and eat the cost of putting each passenger up in a hotel for the evening than fly an unsafe aircraft. Making the right decision and/or the safest decision despite what may be unpopular and having a system in place to handle issues when they arise is exactly what my experience at Telluride was about, and United passed the test today. Am I completely satisfied with the experience? No, as United has a few things to learn from Fred Lee regarding frontline employee authority and customer satisfaction, but I can definitely live with their decision (pun intended).