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On the last weekend of May, British Airways suffered a disastrous technical slip-up that saw flights grounded for up to 48 hours on one of the busiest travel weekends of 2017. 75,000 passengers are said to have been affected and left infuriated by the “exceptionally poor” communication from the airline.

A passenger stuck at Heathrow told the BBC that it was one of the “most turbulent, badly organised days” that he’d ever experienced in Britain and that “the lack of communication all day was woeful”. He added: “The only time I found out my flight was cancelled was from the BBC News website”. Oh dear!

British Airways released a statement, albeit a little too late, blaming a power supply issue for the IT blunder. The question of how this could bring down an entire corporate system is causing IT experts to scratch their heads, but that’s not what we’re interested in…

Travellers were left in the dark about their flight status and check-in staff were equally bewildered, unable to answer the questions from infuriated passengers. While the downfall of the systems was seemingly unavoidable (hmm…), could more have been done by the airline’s communications team in the aftermath to mitigate the situation?

PR professionals are now questioning British Airways’ ability to handle such a crisis and whether its communication strategy is really up to scratch. Surely the ‘largest airline in the UK’ should be leading by example? However, rather than learn from its successes, the latest catastrophic failings demonstrated by BA only go to underline the need for quality crisis management skills.

Whether you’re a multi-national corporate entity or a smaller, more local brand, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of what to do – and what to say – when things don’t quite go to plan. Here are some points to consider:

  • Where is your crisis comms manual? Do you even have one? Having a proactive and comprehensive crisis strategy is paramount – make sure it’s revisited, rehearsed and updated regularly.
  • Put together the best team for handling a crisis – identify appropriate people within the business who are excellent communicators in times of crisis. These people will act as official spokespeople and should cover senior roles (CEO, MD), legal, public relations, and front-line representatives. It’s appropriate to create a pool of people to ensure there is always someone available.
  • Respond immediately – develop a holding statement, key messages and potential media questions that will form the initial stages of the crisis response plan.
  • Devise clear and simple notification systems – it should enable all enquiries to be dealt with quickly and efficiently (i.e. handling initial external enquiry; notification of enquiry to designated team; issuing holding response; agreeing on appropriate timings for response).
  • Don’t neglect an internal policy! Your employees are your most important stakeholders during a crisis and poor internal communications can weaken external efforts. Plus, improving your internal communications will not only help in a crisis, but will increase employee engagement, allow you to build morale and stronger teams and enhance your company competitiveness.

Do you need to tighten your crisis management? Let’s chat!