Airlines Need Crisis Communications Plan as Part of Long-Term Recovery
COVID-19 Pandemic Halts 20 years of Airline Traffic Growth
New data from Cirium, which provides analytics on the travel industry, shows the aviation and travel industries are in crisis. The pandemic virtually halted and reversed the past 20 years’ worth of growth across the globe, as shown in Cirium’s report: Airline Insights Review 2020.
In response to the pandemic, airlines parked aircraft, cut routes, furloughed or laid off staff, and retired jumbo jets like the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747 – all done to preserve cash and avoid bankruptcy. These are tough, but existential decisions for any organization.
Communicating about those decisions before, during and after is crucial to success after this crisis. They affect tens of thousands of lives and have ripple effects throughout the travel industry, potentially hurting millions of people and their families.
Though current trends in the report show there are bright spots in terms of recovery, most airlines have only been able to survive by utilizing these draconian methods. More than 40 others have suspended operations indefinitely or completely shut down.
These actions are incredibly disruptive and require active and sustained crisis management since many analysts think this could continue until as long as 2025.
In order to be able to move from crisis to recovery, though, the most important step is to stop the bleeding. The narrative cannot change, and no recovery plan will be successful until that happens.
A strong crisis communications plan will chart a course not only for the airlines and airports at the top of the pyramid, but for all those in their supply chain including the tier 1 manufacturers, their suppliers, MROs, and consultancies alike. It extends out to all those airports and rental car companies and hotels and travel agencies that depend on a steady stream of passengers. There is practically no organization in the industry that won’t benefit from re-evaluating their business after a dramatic incident such as this.
Here are a few thoughts on how to communicate from crisis to recovery:
- Acknowledge the Problem: Initially airlines were hoping and guessing that the pandemic would be a short-term concern and travel would rebound before the end of 2020. Now, airlines know that’s not the case and can use recent data, such as that from Cirium, to develop a more realistic outlook on the impact of the crisis facing the travel industry.
- Develop a Business Continuity Plan: Every airline, airport and travel company that has been affected by the coronavirus should establish a plan that incorporates short- and long- term business priorities. A plan like this can help companies focus their business efforts to help avoid losing money, firing staff, or even closing permanently.
- Communicate Clearly and Effectively: While no one was prepared for a pandemic this large, once a plan is in place, it needs to be clearly communicated to all relevant parties – staff, customers, partners, and stakeholders. One of the most crucial audiences are the people who lost their jobs as well as those who were fortunate enough to retain them. These are often the most ardent advocates and critics. Formulating the right message and striking the right tone can make or break a response.
- Show Compassion: Thousands of people working in the airline industry, in the U.S. alone, have already lost their jobs or been furloughed, setting off a ripple effect that has hurt millions. Worse yet, we have seen hundreds of thousands die from COVID-19. Communicating with compassion under these circumstances is important to showing you – the CEO, the president, or the board of directors – cares about its employees and their families, as well as the customers who fly your airline.
An important aspect of the plan will also include a timeline that will help keep a focus on the endgame of recovery since this is a long road to travel.
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