Airline disasters are down in 2014 compared to this time in 2013. But you would never realize this based upon media reports. First there was the hype over the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370. Then the same airline lost another plane two weeks ago – shot down over Ukraine by Russian-backed separatists. Then the FAA banned flights to Israel for a short period after the terrorist group, Hamas, shot rockets near the Tel Aviv airport. Compounding this, just last week there were stories about the crash of an Air Algérie plane with 116 people perishing and a TransAsia Airways turboprop fall in Taiwan. Indeed based upon these stories, many consumers believe that air travel is becoming more dangerous not less. Add to all of this, the general consumer dissatisfaction about the quality of service provided during flights, that many consumers believe is reflected in these hyped about air disasters, and you have an industry desperately in need of public relations.
In developing their public relations strategy, the airline industry needs to be addressing their key stakeholders – consumers, regulators, and employees. While the first thought is to reassure the public, overlooked with airline disasters is that the regulators will come in to assess the industry as a whole and conduct hearings. Let’s not forget also, the fact that this is an election year. Many an ambitious and pontificating politician would love to grill airline executives and develop their own sound bite proof plan for friendly skies. Finally, employees cannot be ignored as many are wondering what will be the response by the industry to these stories.
So what should the airline industry do?
- Stress how safe it is to fly. As mentioned in the beginning of the article, air disasters as a whole are down in 2014. The airline industry needs to stress this through a publicity campaign with a series of television commercials stressing the safety of airline travel compared to other modes of transportation, particularly automobiles. In these commercials the industry should mention the advances in technology that have been made that ensure even greater safety when traveling the skies. Some of the new technologies should be highlighted. A newspaper and social media campaign with the same message should be done in conjunction with the television commercials.
- Individual airlines must stress their own records of safety. Many airlines have seamless air safety records. These airlines should use this time as an opportunity to highlight their safety record and lack of air mishaps. This can be done through stories of satisfied travelers providing testimonials to information garnered from annual reports.
- Be proactive by discussing what additional and new safety precautions the industry and individual airlines are doing in the aftermath of these highly publicized disasters. Too often, an industry waits for regulators and politicians to address a crisis before providing their solutions. This is a time for the airline industry to be a step ahead and discuss how they are going beyond what is legally required with more comprehensive safety measures.
- Address employees. Often employees are forgotten in any crisis response and are an afterthought in a public relations campaign. The airlines need to make sure that all employees know what is being done to address consumer concerns about safety and service issues, as well as, what is expected from them.
- Recreate the flying experience. Lately, consumers complain that a flight is nothing more than a glorified bus drive in the air. The flying experience has lost its meaning. The complaints about service are mirrored in what the public thinks about airline safety, particularly after the latest air disasters. Airlines must work to create a quality experience for the customer from the moment they step on the plane to the moment they pick up their luggage. By doing this, consumers will believe that the quality of service they receive during a flight is also reflected in how the airline is ensuring safety during the flight.
Addressing concerns about airline safety now will go a long way to reassure the public and regulators that the skies are indeed safe. Beyond that it will go a long way in bolstering the airline industry’s overall image not only in safety but in service.