City of Pittsburgh but what happens when communication breaks down?


I like Pittsburgh. But I don't like being taken there against my will, which is what happened when the United flight I was on from Tampa to Newark was forced to “divert” because of really bad weather.

Pittsburgh is a strange airport. I had been told that the shopping was great, but the stores (and all the bars and almost all the eating places) closed by 7 p.m. (The friendly salesclerk at the one open newsstand said, “Oh, usually, it’s dead here after 7. We just stay open for the last flight, which leaves at 10.” I guess they don’t call Pittsburgh “the city that never sleeps.”)

And although there are supposedly 100 gates in four wings, many of them are “vapor” gates, existing only on signs. (I had four hours to kill, so I took a walk around the entire gate area. If you find yourself in Pittsburgh, try finding all 100 gates. They simply don’t exist. What happened to gates 90 through 100, for instance?)

But all that aside, the problem that affected me personally was this: The gate our plane was using had no public address system. (It also had no working monitor or signage of any kind.) So the pilot used the only way he could think of to keep us informed: Every hour or so, he stood behind the counter and, speaking as loudly as he could, told us what was happening. He then urged us to come back an hour later to strain to hear further updates.

This led to an informal viral communication system where the people near the pilot would then carry the message to the people in the back who couldn’t really hear. And, since everyone was in a helpful mood, it sort of worked. But the lack of communication increased anxiety and made everyone more cranky than they had to be, since no one felt very well-informed.

Eventually, someone figured out a way to use the airport-wide PA system to alert us passengers (and everyone else) that we needed to get to the gate area when it was time to board.

That sort of worked, too, although the man who had been sitting next to me, who was on his way to Birmingham, England, never showed up and we took off without him. Wonder what happened to him?

This experience demonstrated that communication is even more important in a crisis. Think about a major change, for instance . . . when messages aren't clear or channels don't work, anxiety can become debilitating.

In any case, I was glad to get back to Newark Airport to a place where PA systems are operational, monitors provide updates, and bars are open late. In a tense situation, communication is obviously important. Of course, so is alcohol.

Join for free to access more information
Register today to learn more