Greetings from Florence. Alitalia has created a brilliant opportunity to write something about BAD customer communication. “What do you expect?” I hear you ask, “It’s an airline.” OK, I’ve been a spoiled princess where airlines have been concerned. Alitalia is making up for all that.

The fact that Alitalia has an area on its web site for dealing with lost luggage should have been a clue that things could go wrong. The more distressing thing is – it doesn’t work. I dutifully entered the number they gave me at the lost luggage counter at the airport, and the system doesn’t recognize me or the bag. If you call the office, you hear a tape recording telling you that all claims must be in writing and there is absolutely no point in trying to talk to anyone. Yes, let’s just cut off all communication with anyone who might actually be able to tell me that someone is actually searching for this bag.

When a customer has a problem with your product or service, it’s important that they get some sort of acknowledgement that someone notices or cares. Actually being seen to be doing something to resolve the problem is even better. Best of all? Solving the problem!

I don’t know whether this is something Alitalia doesn’t know, or if it’s employees and managers just can’t deal with all the yelling. But shutting off communication won’t stop the yelling. It makes us yell more. We just yell more publicly and to anyone who’ll listen.

Yelling was something they were really trying to avoid when they cancelled the London – Milan and London-Rome flights yesterday morning due to a scheduled short-term strike by – well – nobody could tell us. Hundreds of people were inconvenienced – and the situation was made worse by the fact that the airline would provide no information. No info about rescheduling. No info about what would happen if we missed connections. No info about why the flight was cancelled.

When someone in the line with a wireless-connected laptop tried to get to the Alitalia web site to see if they could get some info on rebooking, we learned about the shocking bombings in the London Underground. Already stressed, the crowd’s anxiety levels increased.

A group travelling to Africa was clearly going to miss its very necessary connection. As they became more agitated and anxious, they became louder. The official became more steadfast in his refusal to give them any information that might suggest anyone knew or cared about their situation. I actually heard him threaten to call police and have the next person who yelled at him arrested.

This was all going on in a communication situation complicated by language and cultural differences and the shock of the bombings. A little sensitivity was completely in order, and none was demonstrated.

Sure, Alitalia is, like so many airlines, experiencing serious financial and operational difficulties. But information doesn’t cost anything. Neither does being nice. Going incommunicado is not a survival strategy.