If you fly American Airlines, there's an increasingly unfortunate chance that you're going to miss your flight. The same is true of Southwest. That's because, according to an FAA report on Thursday, both airlines are canceling far more flights and denying seats to far more passengers than normal as a result of taking the 737-MAX plane out of their fleet. 

The airlines took the planes out of service earlier this year after two fatal crashes that raised significant safety concerns.

In the first half of this year, over 75,000 passengers have been denied boarding--either voluntarily or involuntarily--by American Airlines, more than double the number during the same period last year. 

Southwest denied boarding to 22,364 people voluntarily, and another 2,525 involuntarily during the first six months of the year--again, double last year's figures for the same timeframe.

It doesn't have to be your fault to be your problem.

The fact that the 737-MAX is out of service isn't the fault of the airlines. No, that blame falls on Boeing, and to some extent the FAA. But that doesn't matter. It may not be the airlines' fault, but it's still their problem.

Passengers who purchase a ticket and then end up not going where they thought they were going don't necessarily care that it was due to someone else's fault. It doesn't matter if it's weather, maintenance, or a plane that isn't safe to fly. The result is the same--they don't get what they expected.

And it isn't only about customers. The 737-MAX problem has a real impact on the airlines as well. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC in July that the disruptions from the 737-MAX have cost the airline "$175 million and that will be more in the third quarter." 

Instead of making excuses, just make it right.

But the more important thing for customers isn't whether your airline lost money but whether or not you can make things right. Of course, taking the 737-MAX off the schedule was the first attempt at making things right. A few delays and cancellations is far better than a few crashes. 

But in the long run, canceling flights and leaving customers stranded in airports doesn't exactly qualify as "making it right."

And the bad news is that, unfortunately, things aren't likely to change any time soon. Neither airline plans to start using the 737-MAX again until November at the earliest. With 6,800 daily flights for American to schedule and coordinate, losing 24 of your planes doesn't make things any easier. Southwest lost 36. 

That's understandable, and I have no problem admitting that the complexities of running a global airline are far beyond me. I do know this, though: When a problem starts to affect the way people perceive you brand, you have to own it, whether it's your fault or not. 

That's true for your business too. 

Do the next right thing for your customers.

Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes those things are out of your control. Still, your customers aren't really interested in hearing all the good reasons why something went wrong. No, they just want to know what you're doing to fix it. 

Because things will go wrong. You may not have to remove a plane from your fleet over safety concerns, but you will be faced with a problem. When you are, whether it's your fault or not, your customers are counting on you not to explain how someone else messed up.

They're counting on you to just make it right.

Published on: Aug 16, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.