Ten rules for communication during airline disruptions

Patricia Simillon

Head of Strategic Marketing, Airlines, Amadeus IT Group

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Flight disruptions are bad enough for travellers. But, when combined with a poor communication strategy, the negative impact can be exponentially compounded. In our report, Shaping the future of Airline Disruption Management (IROPS), Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications, Bill McFarlan, shared some of his expert strategies for airlines and other stakeholders to communicate effectively during irregular operations, which are summarised below:

 ten rules for comunication


1. Establish the facts – Drill down and get the facts about what happened and decide who needs to know them. Then think about the team you need to assemble and what channels of communication you are going to use. 2. Separate public from private information – There will always be things you can share, and information you must hold back. However, what you say must be truthful and accurate. Write two lists: one of things you can definitely say, and the other of questions that may well be asked. 3. Say what you can as fully and as soon as you possibly can – Most passengers and travel agents would complain if kept dark. The companies that are proactive in telling what they know immediately are the companies that start to win back trust. 4. Always lead with what’s most important to each audience – Categorise facts and say, “These things are most important to travel agents, these are most important to passengers, these are the most important to shareholders.” 5. Say sorry – Some corporate lawyers say that saying sorry means admitting liability. But it’s actually empathising with people. The repercussions will come if you fail to say sorry. 6. Be optimistic – It’s easy to tell people defensively what we don’t know, and that’s actually unhelpful and frustrating. Instead, say, “We’ve yet to establish why the plane is being delayed, we’re looking into all possibilities, and as soon as we know what is going to happen, we will let you know.” 7. Avoid “watering down” words – Words like “hopefully” and phrases such as “we’re doing our best” cover a multitude of sins. Tell people that things are done, not that you’re trying. The words passengers want to hear are ones that convey certainty. 8. Answer direct questions with a background explanation – If asked, “Will this plane leave today?”, and you don’t know the answer, respond with: “It’s too early to say. We’re doing x because of y. If x works, we’ll be able to get airborne. Otherwise we’ll do z. We will get it sorted and we will let you know at the earliest opportunity when the plane will take off.” 9. Keep abreast of changing information and reaction to your news – Know what customers are saying on Twitter, and avoid individually reacting to every single gripe. Instead, come up with a statement with the latest fresh, accurate, honest information, and share it via these channels. 10. Update regularly and manage expectations about progress – Having a team of people who are constantly checking that the correct information is being passed on through the correct channels is essential.

Want to learn more about irregular airline operations? Download our report, Shaping the future of Airline Disruption Management.