The recent, tragic Lion Air plane crash in Indonesia, brings into sharp relief the absolute necessity for airlines to have in place a solid crisis communications plan and the damage that can be caused to a company’s reputation without one.
Complaints from the families involved that they are not receiving information, a lack of clarity or regular updates to the media, and few, if any, pertinent social media posts from any airline undergoing such a crisis are unacceptable in this day and age.
Airlines sadly all too frequently provide prominent examples of how not to manage a crisis. The authorities’ response to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 in 2014 was a classic case in hand. In the immediate aftermath, the official information provided was slow to arrive, confusing and contradictory, and the families of those on board accused the government and airline of being completely unsympathetic of their suffering.
Had there been a process in place for managing such a crisis, the response could have been completely different and not have added pressure to an already catastrophic situation.
Crisis communications have fast developed over recent years and it’s hard to emphasise enough the significance of factoring in social media to crisis and issues planning.
A crisis can easily be made public even before the company involved is aware of an issue. In 2015, for example, a British Airways (BA) aircraft caught fire on a Las Vegas airport runway during take-off. Three minutes later, a picture of the fire appeared on Twitter. The incident was verified by another user tweeting a similar image, who also tagged BA. This image then transferred to Instagram and other social networks. BA’s London-based PR team may well have seen the posts before, or at the same time as, being alerted to the fire by their colleagues.
Airlines are an obvious target: when a plane crashes, it is international news and a major tragedy for the passengers, crew and their friends and families, so the ripples of the event are spread far and wide. The company comes under public scrutiny and the media are poised to find blame.
The good news is that there are steps every company can take to have a solid crisis strategy in place, some of which I outline in my next post.
Sarah Longbottom is Director of Strategy & Planning at Cicero & Bernay Public Relations, an independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the MENA region. | www.cbpr.me