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Project: airBaltic during volcano eruption: setting a new standard for crisismanagementCategory: ISSUES AND CRISIS MANAGEMENTSummaryApril 2010 saw the most extensive air traffic disruption in Europe in the aviationhistory. According to aviation experts, financial crisis was a baby-talk compared to theimpact of Icelandic volcano and the airspace restrictions imposed due to its ash cloudcovering most of Europe. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecastUSD 200 million losses per day in airline revenues. airBaltic demonstrated exemplarycrisis management performance by instantly activating its routinely-simulatedemergency response procedures despite a non-standard/unpredictable crisis.Furthermore, airBaltic set a new trend for crisis communication among airlines byemploying a unique Information Hub model, based on the use of social media(Facebook and Twitter), which airBaltic was one of the pioneering airlines to embrace.The unique information hub mode allowed to communicate the airline’s message, andoffered a platform for the public to share information (informed customers becominginformants). The approach that airBaltic, a compact and dynamic organisation,created instantly in the first minutes of disruption, was copied days later by majorcarriers in Europe.SituationIn April 2010 all the major European airlines faced a logistical nightmare. With almost10 million passengers stranded, it was the largest scale disruption in Europeanaviation industry. In addition to the lost revenues, airlines faced costs for re-routing ofaircraft, care for stranded passengers and aircraft at various airports in Europe.Facing an unprecedented and prolonged crisis situation, many airlines reframed fromcustomer care in the overall chaos.In 2010 on average airBaltic operated over 3,500 flights monthly carrying over200,000 passengers a month. Due to the volcano eruption around750 airBaltic’s flights were cancelled, affecting approximately 40,000 passengers.
ObjectivesCrisis management in airline industry is strictly regulated. The procedures, however,do not cover volcano eruptions. From the first minutes of thedisruption airBaltic’s main goal was to proactively take information leadership, in orderto define actions and movements rather than react to them.The objectives were:1) to follow a strict policy of customer care;2) to take responsibility and control potential emotional outbursts;3) to challenge the existing legislative restrictions, 4) to enhance reputation.The challenges were related to:1) the unique force majeure situation – an untypical, sudden and extensive aviationcrisis;2) overall chaos;3) geographical, legislative restrictions.Target groups – airBaltic’s stranded passengers, existing and potential customers,the general public.StrategyDespite the fact that airBaltic could not prevent the disruption or predict when the ashwould disperse, the airline managed to use previously well-practiced mobilization ofall internal and external resources in order to react in a harmonised and consistentmanner. airBaltic activated its solid and routinely-practised crisis communicationprocedures immediately. The strategy was to create a unique Information Hub withdual function: a) communicate airBaltic’s information b) serve as platform forgathering public and sharing information. In order to satisfy different informationneeds of customers and general public, the Hub was established by three-flowcommunication plan:1) Communication via traditional media – providing basic information;2) Communication via social media networks – maintaining a platform for theinformation sharing and passenger engaging. An informed passenger turned intoinformant, and could both enjoy and provide personalised assistance.3) Communication via airBaltic’s client service (call centre & booking offices) –providing personalized help.
Execution· On April 15th, the volcano ash cloud was in its earliest stage and was viewedby airBaltic as a news-jacking target to communicate airBaltic’s network. The firstmedia briefing was organized an hour before any volcano-related news had reachedthe Latvian media;· Later Latvia’s airspace was closed. Late on April 15th, airBaltic sent out firstpress release and cancelled all flights;· Starting from April 16th through April 20th, airBaltic launched reactive mediarelations by organizing twice-a-day media briefings, distributing three press releasesevery day, providing regular updates on its webpage;· Meanwhile, airBaltic set up a 24/7 Twitter and Facebook service. For the firsttime social networks were used in crisis communication;· Only those stranded passengers who needed additional help were advised tocontact the call centre or ticket offices;Afterwards airBaltic used social media to fill the planes by announcing every freeseat.Documented Results· Proactive communication of airBaltic led to information leadership in Latvia,while Riga International Airport remained reactive during the period of crisis. 900publications about airBaltic in Latvian media in April, 586 on flight disruptions;· 30% increase of followers in Facebook and Twitter, pushing airBaltic to Top10airlines globally (received SimpliFlying-Airlines Business Awards for Social MediaExcellence);· Contribution to paradigm shift in the way airlines handle crisis management inthe age of social media (See Simpliflying Infographic);· Thanks to the social media, airBaltic efficiently managed to fill planes andsmoothly resumed normal operations shortly after the disruption;· airBaltic’s immediate and hands-on approach was subsequently copied by otherEuropean airlines, such as SAS, Finnair, Lufthansa, establishing new trendsettingstandards;· airBaltic and other airlines contributed to current improvements in the EUairspace rationalisation;
· airBaltic became a customer advocate requesting relevant care for other airlines’passengers, thereby contributed to amendments to EU-wide air passengercompensation regulations.Name of the link URLairBaltic Twitter account @airBaltic http://twitter.com/airBalticairBaltic Facebook account http://www.facebook.com/airBaltic http://simpliflying.com/2010/infographic-five-Link to Simpliflying Infographic steps-to-successful-crisis-management-for- airlines-in-the-age-of-social-media/