CROSS-OVER POST FROM SIMPLIFLYING : How can an airline brand survive a disaster? Lessons from the Air France 477 crash

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5/06/2009 – CROSS-OVER POST FROM SIMPLIFLYING : How can an airline brand survive a disaster? Lessons from the Air France 477 crash

With the news of Air France Flight 447’s crash dominating international news for the past few days, today’s cross-over post from Shashank Nigam’s Simpliflying blog is his take on how Air France has publicly handled this crisis.

One thing I would like to note, is that while Shashank comments that Air France has not posted information regarding this incident in social media areas such as Twitter, their partner airline KLM (as the company is Air France-KLM) has been very active in providing up to date information via Twitter. Services such as Twitter are very new in mass communication in the time of such a crisis, such as a plane crash; companies will instinctively turn to time-tested mass communication tools. The fact that KLM picked up the slack, along with Air-France-KLM subsidiary Transavia, shows me that the overall corporate structure is embracing social media to inform those seeking answers.

With my opinion stated…I present you with Simpliflying’s cross-post.

How can an airline brand survive a disaster? Lessons from the Air France 477 crash

As many of you have probably heard on the news, Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330-203 (A332), disappeared a couple of nights ago, flying to Paris (CDG) after departing Rio Di Janeiro (GIG). It’s the first fatal crash of the A330 since 1992, when the plane went into service. Right now as Air France, the Brazilian military and Airbus work to find out the minimize the public relations damage that is caused by any crash, especially an unexplainable lost aircraft, there are lots of lessons to be learnt in how a leading airline brand should deal with disaster

What Air France did well in the aftermath of the crash?

Though there are lots of people affected in the aftermath of an airplane crash, from the plane manufacturer to the air traffic controllers, priority must be given to the relatives of those lost in the accident. Air France as done a pretty decent job of this, despite not knowing where the plane was and the cause of the crash.

  1. Up-to date information was provided directly to the relatives, through dedicated phone lines, in French, Portugese and through international numbers. The media were advised not to call this number.
  2. was changed to a graphic-less look to mourn for the crash, and instead of seeing a normal booking engine, visitors saw links to getting more information about the crash.
  3. Air France showed its empathetic side. About 100 professionally trained doctors and psychologists were made available to the relatives of those on the flight – over the phone, in France and in Rio. I’m sure this soothed some nerves and provided some comfort to the grieving.
  4. These measures demonstrated that the Air France was well-prepared for such an eventuality, and wasn’t acting in a unprofessional manner. In fact, the pschologists and doctors are part of a team of 4,000 volunteers trained to help in crises situations!

What could Air France have done (and other airlines can do)?

There are two more things I feel Air France could have done to augment the rest of its efforts.

  1. Use Twitter! I heard about the crash first on Twitter. I’m sure many others did as well. It’s a well-recognized medium of information transmission these days. Alaska Air recently updated its passengers of the disruptions caused by the volcanic eruptions recently using the tool. And given its real-time and viral nature, I’m sure releasing the latest information on Twitter would add wings to any airline’s efforts.
  2. Add a personality to the brand – don’t be faceless. Taking a leaf out of Rohit Bhargava’s book, in difficult times, people want to hear from and be comforted by a person, not a company. Many large corporations today tend to be faceless, and adding a dash of personality to the brand can go a long way. What do I mean?Richard Branson is the personality of Virgin, Tony Fernandes is the face of AirAsia and The Singapore Girl represents Singapore Airlines. And people relate to these “personalities” much more than they can to an airline. And that can come to the airline’s rescue in tough times.

What do you think? Though it’s a sad incident, how many marks would you give Air France for dealing with the situation professionally? Have they left much to be desired? Let’s discuss.

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