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Trapped in an Airport Elevator

How the vast difference in the way emergency calls are handled came to life for me when I experienced being trapped in an elevator for myself.

I've worked for Kings III Emergency Communications for 3 years now. Trust me, it certainly wasn't an industry I'd ever really thought about having existed prior to my coming on board. Quite frankly, are help phones in elevators and other common areas something any of us really ever think about? Do any of us think that we’re ever really going to experience an elevator entrapment? It’s an out of sight, out of mind sort of service. However, the idea of what type of emergency response you are going to receive quickly becomes FRONT. AND. CENTER. when you’re trapped in an elevator.


I was lucky enough (clearly sarcasm) to experience this for myself recently. I was travelling from DFW to Boston for a marketing conference (shout out to MarketingProfs & their amazing B2B Forum!) that firmly holds a place on my calendar each year (and a place in my heart if we’re being honest- Boston in the fall? Doesn’t get better than that with a killer agenda to boot!). Enough MarketingProfs love, and back to the point. On my trip home, I grabbed my luggage from the baggage claim and headed to the intra-terminal shuttle. Side note- does anyone else get crazy irritated by the fact that they never fly back into the same terminal they fly out of? I mean NEVER. Not Ever. I exit the shuttle at my terminal and head for the parking garage elevator. I parked on the fifth floor as my handy dandy picture on my iphone reminds me. The elevator doors close, I hit the number 5 and proceed as normal.

What’s with the Elevator Door Open Button?
Unfortunately the elevator had different plans for me that day. We pass the fifth floor, proceed to the sixth where we stop and the elevator doors remain closed. GREAT. I try the door open button, but nothing happens. Fun Fact #1: If you’re ever trapped in an elevator that is monitored by Kings III- well, first- you’re lucky (luckier than I was anyway and as lucky as you can be having gotten stuck in an elevator) and second, you’ll notice one of the first questions our emergency operator will ask you is to press and hold the door open button for five seconds. Do you know why that is? Don’t worry, I didn’t either until I was telling this story to a colleague. It’s not because it will actually do anything, but rather, because often time’s passengers think they’re stuck in the elevator and really they’ve simply not hit any buttons to make the elevator move. Major blonde moment for me- thanks Kyle! But, learned something new, and quite obvious I suppose. I think people in general like to press buttons when anything mechanical or tech driven malfunctions- makes us feel less helpless. So, push that door open button (even if just to make yourself feel better)!

And When that Doesn’t Work…
I’m still entrapped so I proceed to use the emergency call button in the elevator and silently hope to myself that I will soon hear “Kings III, What’s Your Emergency?” I know this is likely a false sense of hope, because if this was a client, I’m certain I would most likely know, but I proceed to hope nonetheless. Disappointment soon sets in as I’m greeted with “Thanks for calling so and so…” Okay, now I’m thinking at least someone answered the emergency elevator call but this gal clearly takes other calls outside of emergency calls and I’m likely not going to be at the top of the priority list (where I very well should be if you’re asking me (or my husband for that matter- well trained and such). I go through the ordinary stuff, giving her my name and letting her know I’m stuck in the elevator along with what parking garage and elevator etc. Fun Fact #2: Did you know that for elevators to be code compliant, operators taking the emergency elevator calls have to be able to locate you without your help? That’s right.

Another thing I noticed was the operator didn’t ask the standard questions our operators ask including whether or not I needed medical attention. I didn’t and would hope that anyone who did need medical attention would provide that information on their own, but seems like a simple enough question to ask for liability purposes and to know what parties need to be dispatched for the most appropriate response. If I’m having a panic attack, I don’t think the elevator mechanic is going to be much help in that arena. Although, I’ll surely thank him for getting me out, no doubt!

Don’t Mind Me. I Don’t Need to Know What’s Going On.
More than that, the operator literally gave me zero information. Luckily, while I hadn’t been trapped in an elevator before, I have more background knowledge than most simply from my work at Kings III. Plus, I’m not generally a panicky person but can’t imagine what someone who is might have felt simply being disconnected from the call with no next steps to be spoken of outside of “I’ll call someone”.
I decide I’m likely to be here for a bit and so take a seat on what I’m sure is a very clean elevator cab floor. Don’t judge me. All of a sudden, the elevator drops a floor. My immediate thought is great, maybe the doors will open and I’ll be on my way. Not so fast. I stand up and the elevator goes back up to the sixth floor. I sit back down and the elevator drops again. Quite frankly, a thinner skinned individual might take offense to the idea that an entire elevator could possibly move with the shifting of only their weight. Me? I’m not so thin-skinned.
I decided to call the emergency operator back to let her know of what was happening and to find out what was going on. I thought this might be useful information for her to pass along to the elevator mechanic. She clearly disagreed showing absolutely no interest in the additional information I provided and more or less showing signs of irritation that I dare (yes, dare!) to call back into her at all.

Icing on the Cake
I decided to make use of the call and ask her if she had an ETA for whoever she’d dispatched out. She didn’t. OK, rookie mistake. So, I then asked if she knew where the responding parties were coming from. I’m decent with locations and could probably throw in my own guesstimate of time. “Nope, not sure where they are coming from”. She let me know that she had called into their units on site and basically they’d be here when they’re here. I later found out the units dispatched out were airport police, although I’m still not certain how they were going to help me get out of the elevator. They could help with a multitude of items (#BacktheBlue!), I just don’t think elevator mechanics makes that list. So, I ask the operator if she would mind calling them back to get me an ETA. A reasonable request, right? Apparently not. She responded with a mere "No". I couldn’t help myself but to do nothing more than laugh aloud as I asked her, “I’m sorry ma’am. Are you serious? Did you just say that no, you will not call them back for an ETA?”. Her response was a firm, “no, I won’t.” I thought better to simply say “Ok, I’m going to hang up now” then to stay on the line and become more and more irritated, likely resorting to my sailor ways. I know myself. I have a full vocabulary- best not to use it.

And Then, the Police Arrive…
Fast forward about 10 minutes (entire ordeal was roughly 25 minutes) and I hear a faint sound of two male voices coming from outside the elevator. I call back out letting them know I can hear them. It was the airport police officers. They ask if I’m ok or if I need medical attention. Finally! Someone that wants to know if I’m ok. “Fine, just irritated”, I respond back to them. They laugh, as do I. They continue to talk, but I can’t hear them because at that moment, the elevator dropped two floors, down to the fourth floor. The doors opened, angels sang, and I immediately saw a family of four waiting to hop on "my" elevator. Of course, I stop them, giving them the cliff notes of my experience and somewhat laughingly tell them, “don’t be lazy, just take the stairs. Trust me!” Lucky for them, they took my advice. I’m positive the only thing worse than being stuck in an elevator is being stuck in an elevator with multiple kiddos after a long flight. Ok- maybe people with terrible body odor or those who are super panicky take the cake, but kids wouldn’t be a picnic either. No. Thanks. Kids are great. In tight spaces or on airplanes? Not so much.

I know you’re dying to know how this ends, so I ran up the steps to the sixth floor to let the officers know I’d gotten out on the fourth floor when the elevator dropped and to suggest putting an out of order sign on the elevator. They were super friendly and I didn’t want to leave them there talking to me with no response. Had the operator been up there trying to talk to me on the sixth floor through the elevator? Well, let’s just say I would have gladly saved myself some steps that day (sorry fitbit) and simply gone on my merry way. Let her talk.

What’s the point?
There are a few points to this actually (outside of my need to rant). While I wouldn’t say I enjoyed being stuck in an elevator, I certainly think it gave me some additional perspective on our business. We write marketing content all day, every day relative to elevator entrapments and emergency response. We know our service pretty well. Believe in it? Absolutely! That value comparison sheet we have certainly comes to life though when you have a direct comparison in a situation that you yourself experience. Am I going to now suggest that everyone in our company experience being trapped in an elevator? Not yet- but I’m in good spirits today. Down the line? Maybe.

Another point is, in the least salesy way that I can describe it, there are so many facets to managing a property. Don’t fall short on your help phone services. We all know that people remember (and share) bad experiences far more than they do great experiences. What strikes you as a negative experience on your property more so than a situation that requires your client or guest to utilize an emergency help phone? Make sure that this is something on your list to address. It’s an easy item to solve with the right solution in place and can make all the difference in customer satisfaction, liability and risk reduction. It certainly wasn’t a shining moment for this location, which I visit quite frequently. Luckily, I have a decent sense of humor and am not one to spend my time on hold for hours on end while I try to track down the appropriate person to complain to :). 

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Katie Thomas

Posted on December 9 2015

By Katie Thomas, VP of Marketing Kings III

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