Crisis Communications During Operational Challenges

Crisis Communications During Operational Challenges

Mario Gomez – GoCrisis, VP Global Communications

Now more than ever, airlines are facing unique challenges. Covid restrictions, fluctuations in the numbers of passengers for flights, severe weather conditions, technology failures, and staffing shortages are just some of the growing list of issues impacting airlines and the flying public.

Below is a checklist of action steps to keep in mind to help manage communications during an airline operational crisis:

  • Communicate early when emerging operational issues may impact flight schedules. Get ahead of the story! Be the first to explain the impact of the operational crisis on customers and passengers, and what the company is doing to mitigate it. (Who, what, where, when, why, and how.)
  • Prepare a statement for station managers and prepare a call centre script with the appropriate information with possible questions and answers, using FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). Make sure to include all critical stakeholders in its distribution, such as ground handling personnel, pilots, and flight attendants. Consider including union representatives, as well.
  • Prepare your media spokesperson and make this individual available for interviews. Be proactive; don’t wait for the news media to come to you. Take accountability before a problem becomes a significant incident. People will forgive an organization for operational issues such as weather, staffing, or technology failures. They won’t forgive an inadequate or uncaring response, which could have a lasting impact on the brand and possibly the organization’s future.
  • If operational interruptions last for an extended period, the CEO or a key leader in your organization should serve as the airline spokesperson. Protecting the image and the public perception is the role of top leaders. Prepare talking points with potential questions and answers. If time allows, conduct a dry run of a mock media interview and create a YouTube statement.
  • Speak with empathy and compassion when making an apology to passengers and customers. People will be angry and on an emotional edge when their plans are interrupted. Leadership must be empathetic to the concerns of customers.
  • Be empathetic to all staff, especially to frontline workers. Public-facing team members are under tremendous stress when an organization is struggling to regain its operation. Unfortunately, they bear much of the anger of displaced customers, often while being recorded on social media. Your organization must provide them with timely updates that extend empathy to them, as well. Validate their frustration and treat them with kindness, as they are your best ambassadors.
  • Use your communication tools wisely. Issue frequent updates to the news media, and all appropriate social media platforms, regarding the progress and expected return to normal operations. Make the best use of your website for updates, up to and including possible activation of your company’s dark site.
  • Be cognitive of your tone and voice inflexions. Speaking with words of compassion is one thing; however, having a condescending or flippant vocal tone will make you appear unconcerned and unbelievable to your audience.
  • Be aware of your background and office furnishings when providing online interviews. They can distract from your message and convey unintended messages to those watching. 
  • During a crisis, centralize all communications, marketing, and promotions within your Incident Command. Posting smiling employees with offers to “Join our Team” or announcing a new sale or destination on social media only adds to the anger of people affected when some departments are unaware of the severity of an operational crisis.
  • Activate your Incident Command Team early. The best way to coordinate a response to a crisis is through the early activation of an Incident Command Team. They keep everyone updated and aware of the situation from a central location (even if it’s virtual). Do not wait until a crisis has already overwhelmed an organization to activate this essential team. Your PR, Communications, and Social Media representatives will play a critical role in the success of your operational recovery.

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