Over the past 15 years I have trained hundreds of executives from more than 30 airlines around the world on how to respond in a crisis…specifically an accident. In one sense—with the exception of the advent of social media and the corresponding expectations from the traveling public—things have been somewhat constant. The regulatory authorities, in the case of the United States, the National Transportation Safety Bureau, are very clear on what an airline can and cannot say in an accident.
What is not so clear, is what happens in airplane incidents where regulatory authorities are not involved. These could include operational, weather-related, in-flight customer or a variety of other incidents. This is probably why many airlines pay less attention to training and developing strategies to prevent incidents from escalating. Only a few months ago we saw how the heavy-handed ejection of a passenger from an over-booked plane rapidly went viral with disastrous consequences for the airline’s reputation, brand and image.
For that reason, a regional airline I work with has started concentrating on how to manage incidents and how to prevent them from becoming full-blown crises. While airline accidents are very rare (so far this year has proven to be one of the safest on record), incidents happen all the time. How a company manages them makes the difference between a ripple in the media waters and a tsunami.