Las Vegas Airport and British Airways plane on fire – a lesson in crisis communications and social media

The response from Las Vegas Airport (McCarran, @lasairport on Twitter) to the fire on yesterday’s British Airways flight, is an excellent example of crisis communications and social media best practice.

On a practical basis both Las Vegas Airport, and the British Airways teams dealt with the issue – a reported engine fire – extremely quickly.

They received their first call at 4.13, flames were spotted at 4.14, and their response was immediately underway. The fire was out, and all the passengers were evacuated by 4.18. Amazingly fast.

But, as you might expect from a crisis communications specialist, I’m also very interested in how all the parties dealt with comms around the issue. Particularly as I work a lot in the travel, hotels and hospitality sectors.

By my reckoning, @bradley_hampton tweeted a picture of the fire at 4.17 (but bear in mind he may have taken the picture a while beforehand), and @K8DeMaria also tweeted a similar image, flagging that it was a #britishairways plane at around the same time. And @reggiefaer posted a similar pic on Instagram.

  This plane just exploded on the runway here in #lasvegas holy fuck there’s people running everywhere now.   A photo posted by Reggie Bügmüncher (@reggiefaer) on

Once again we see user-generated content setting the pace for crisis communications responses.

It’s highly likely that the PR and communications team for British Airways and Las Vegas Airport were alerted to the fire via social channels at the same time – or maybe even before – their operations colleagues told them. And then their well-rehearsed crisis drills were put into action. Brilliantly.

At 4.22 @LASairport started tweeting about the incident – confirming there was an incident, stating the (limited) facts available (but surprisingly without tagging British Airways – perhaps because the official account doesn’t pop up quickly in search because of the annoying underscore).

By this stage their phone was probably ringing off the hook with media requests.

Crisis communications and social media – a Twitter first strategy

So, in just one tweet, Las Vegas Airport showed how much the practice of dealing with crisis communications has changed dramatically over the last few years:

And that Twitter feed then became the definitive source of accurate airport information, as well as signposting other places for information (including giving out media contact details for British Airways).

Less than four hours after the incident, the Airport had a press conference, thanking the emergency teams, airline crew and passengers.

Also by this stage, British Airways were very much in control of all the communications with the passengers and the media. But, presumably because the incident was over relatively quickly, the first social media statement from British Airways was fairly ‘vanilla’, at just after 8am UK time

And the link itself summarised all the facts available, as well as gave contact numbers for passengers’ families. [UPDATE – British Airways have been signposting even more information on Twitter during the day] Als0 by this time, Boeing had gone into crisis response mode, tweeting their two fairly standard responses:

followed by

Clearly a fire on board a plane preparing to take off is a very serious issue. But on this occasion the safety drills, and the crisis communications rehearsals of all the stakeholders involved proved to be extremely effective.

Las Vegas Airport, their support services on the ground, and British Airways deserve huge amounts of credit for the way they handled this crisis, and the communications around it.

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