United in Success and Failure

May 4, 2017
When one crisis communication plan fails, the entire industry loses.

So I originally wrote a column for you to about a recent experience getting stranded in an airport that kicked off a 36 hour saga that entailed two airlines, five cities, four airports and zero hotel rooms and relating it to the importance for preparations for mass cancellation. It would’ve made you laugh, been a little entertained and maybe provided some perspective from the passenger side of a major delay.

However, I had to scrap that column because as we were putting together the Airport Business daily newsletter a few weeks ago, I was struck by a headline that really hit me:

“Nobody Dragged From Oversold Boise Flights, Airport Says”

April hasn’t been kind to United on a public relations front. First the outcry from the leggings incident, then the viral video of a man being dragged from his seat because the flight was oversold, followed up with some company statements that ended up fanning the flames even further.

While the incident took place in Chicago, local media outlets were aflutter with local stories about any potential incidents. I’ve never flown out of Boise, but I’m willing to bet no one getting forcibly dragged from a flight is a pretty regular thing and therefore shouldn’t be news, however, when a major incident happens, the questions will roll right back at you because all news is local.

If you have a communications department at your airport, I’m willing to bet each one of them fielded at least one phone call from a media outlet asking about the United incident. Some blame an overzealous press, but as someone who used to work in newspapers, I assure you the only reason they were calling is because reporters were hit with multiple phone calls from people in your community alleging all sorts of incidents they claim took place at your facility or on flights from your airport.

Great public relations are more crucial than ever for the aviation industry. There is a whole host of issues right that could fundamentally change the industry.

Best practices on the ground stop incidents, but public communications contains a crisis. Keep an eye on your crisis communications plans and make sure your administration is speaking to the public and not the industry.

After all, it only takes one incident and a poor plan at one facility that can create a whole new slough of regulations for everyone else.