Tag crisis comms

British Airways Crisis Communications Fail

Crisis communications fail. The day British Airways nearly lost its reputation as the World’s Favourite Airline

  • Can you afford to make the same crisis communications mistakes in your PR strategy?

  • How much is your reputation worth?

  • Do you regularly, thoroughly test your crisis plan?

This seven-point  plan could have saved the airline millions in compensation and lost credibility.

BA’s catastrophic computer crash led to hundreds of cancelled and delayed flights.

Thousands of passengers were stranded. Holidays ruined. And families in tears.

But it was the airline’s shambolic PR response, rather than the IT meltdown itself, that threatens its reputation.

BA suffered communications breakdown on an epic scale.

Airline staff on the ground knew no more than the passengers they were trying to help.


“There are no managers here. We don’t know what we are doing.”

– BA ground crew

The seven-point crisis communications plan

Restless Communications develops real-time scenarios to stress test and improve your crisis strategy.

We move your plans from the whiteboard into a real world environment.

And we help organisations plan for situations just like this: where an operational issue becomes a communications crisis.

This is typically because information-flow within organisations breaks down.

When automated systems (e.g. texting customers or guests, or updating centralised systems) fall over.

When the queue of customers get longer and longer.

But the volume of accurate customer-facing information gets shorter and shorter.

We can help you identify the weak points. Weed out what doesn’t work. And build on everything you do well to develop an effective crisis communications plan.

We have helped brands deal with natural disasters, terrorist incidents and PR nightmares.

Find out if you are crisis-ready, by running through this seven-point checklist

1) Can you distribute accurate information around your organisation, and then out to customers? When the normal channels you rely on completely fail

2) Do you prioritise information to your social media and digital comms teams during a crisis? Speedy flow of info will take pressure off call centre and front-line staff.

3) Can you immediately scale-up your social customer service team, as demand on their time spikes?

4) Does your social media team have the tools they need to listen and engage? At scale. And at the busiest times of the year?

5) When systems are down, can you co-ordinate your teams on the ground?

6) Can you quickly identify customers in distress – and offer them meaningful help?

7) Are all your staff trained in crisis protocols?

If the answers to all these questions is “yes”, you are on your way to having a foolproof crisis communications plan.

But there are always things you can do better.

Call us now to find out more.

Our team has decades of frontline experience in crisis comms, journalism, broadcast and social media.

We have worked with brands like Eurostar, Starwood Hotels, Express Newspapers, and TfL.

Helping them to prepare and put in place crisis procedures and plans.

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.

Best practice: crisis communications and Malaysia Airlines

No airline ever wants to puts its crisis communications training procedures into practice, but over the last few days the Malaysia Airlines team have done an excellent job in communicating to a global audience what little information they have, in very difficult circumstances. Boeing have also followed their textbook procedures – so soon after the Asiana crash too.

At the time of writing MH370 is still missing. Clearly the airlines and investigators are prioritising finding the plane over communications. Events are still unfolding, and thoughts are with those affected, but the extremely professional approach of the airline instills significantly more confidence than, say, the much-criticised delayed response by Asiana recently.

In any crisis, speculation will fill a information vacuum. And this one has been no different. But what is different is that there has been very little ‘solid’ information since MH370 went missing on 8 March. But still Malaysia Airlines appear to be authoritative and in control.

Malaysia Airlines’ social channels – and once it was up and running their dark site  – is a textbook case in how to use modern communications channels effectively.

Malaysia Airlines’ first statement was released at 7.24am local time on Saturday 8 March on Facebook (possibly before the dark site was ready?) and linked to via Twitter, clarifying that the plane was missing since 2.40am (local time) and detailing the numbers of passengers, infants and crew.

Malaysia Airlines Twitter statement MH370

N.b. Someone from the BBC was the second person to get in touch

Within two hours the CEO had issued another statement on Facebook and the airline was contacting next of kin.

Malaysia Airlines use Facebook to publish statements during crisis

Malaysia Airline’s second Facebook statement re missing MH370

At 11am the press conference and CEO statement (also published on Facebook, not yet on the dark site) dealt with speculation that the plane had landing at Nanming, detailed the nationalities of the passengers, and spelled out the extensive experience of the Pilot and First Officer.

From 2.30pm all the social posts were headlines only – and referred people to a ‘dark site’ (a blog-type platform on a corporate website that only gets switched on during a crisis) via a regularly shared shortlink – www.bit.ly/MH370updates.

Malaysia Airlines' dark site link re MH370

Malaysia airlines changed their home page to highlight the ‘dark site’

The homepage of the dark site always features the latest information, clearly dated and in order. From this point all company information was  posted once, on ‘owned’ space, and links were shared via social channels.

(As an aside, both the dark site and the social channels pages appear to have ‘greyed out’ the colours in the corporate logo – a small but significant detail).


Boeing – crisis communications experts – in action again

At the time of writing, Boeing also seem to have suspended ‘news as usual’ on their corporate pages as well, instead, defaulting the home page to a “Deepest concern” statement, as it did post-Asiana.

Against this backdrop, and, given the lack of ‘news’ there is a lot of speculation, often in ‘reputable’ news organisations like Fox News, which Malaysia Airlines are not commenting specifically on. The airline has also (wisely) not been pulled into any of the discussions about the passengers with the alleged false passports.

Surprisingly perhaps, some of the Reddit threads, even the very early ones, have been extremely well-informed. Someone claiming to be a 777 pilot debunked a few myths, while someone else shared the link from Flightradar which showed the flight disappearing from the global tracking system. Genuinely very eerie.

News reports depict the family and friends of the passengers and crew being very upset about the lack of information available. As you’d expect them to be.

But given the lack of information to date, Malaysia Airlines and Boeing have shown how effectively crisis communications can be done, up until now.

How well they’ll do when there is information about what has happened to MH370 remains to be seen.

Oxfam and DEC – Crisis Communications experts

We’re still adjusting to the destruction and havoc caused by the Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and there’s plenty more we don’t know about, so it seems almost churlish to look at the crisis communications involved while there’s still so much suffering on the ground. But I want to applaud the comms efforts of the Aid agencies, particularly Oxfam and the DEC. And criticise the automated ad-booking systems of Expedia and Booking.com (amongst others).

I regularly look at how corporates respond to a social media crisis, or a crisis that plays out in social media. Typically it’s about them and how they react. But something like the typhoon is much bigger than that. It’s about how the world reacts. And how (in many cases) the Governments and Aid agencies act to motivate people to donate.

In this case, the speed at which the Aid agencies have acted both operationally (getting people on the ground) but also in comms terms has been extremely impressive. The use of ‘dark sites’, populated extremely quickly and updated in real-time is commendable. The DEC have got a decent site live, but Oxfam’s is really very excellent. In particular the way they’ve rolled in a liveblog to publish their news and collate others’. Fingers crossed it helps increase donations, and then action.

But on the other hand, we have Booking.com and Expedia. Really, did no-one think to stop buying ads against Google searches for ‘Philippines Hotel’? At least for a week or so. Hats off to Oxfam (again) for bidding for the top spot, but, while I appreciate Expedia, Booking.com, Asiarooms etc. have businesses to run, surely they could put one aspect on hold for a little while?

[update – after spotting booking.com initially I couldn’t screengrab it. Maybe they’ve turned their booking off]

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