What airlines and airports can learn from each other

Jerry Hendin

Last week, I had the privilege of working with one of the best airports in the United States and I came away from the crisis communication training session thinking about the differences between airports and airlines…and the similarities.

One of the major learnings—in addition to understanding how airports deal with thousands or hundreds of thousands people who pass through an airport every day including passengers, airport and airline workers and on-site vendors—is the absolute and necessary symbiotic relationship between the two.

The recent system failure of British Airways which shut down flights from Gatwick and Heathrow and the resulting impact on those airports is a another reminder of that relationship.

This is where I think public relations practitioners, at both airports and airlines, have an opportunity.

Since we know that airports are focal points for the majority of air transport crises - be they accidents, criminal acts or other events causing serious operational disruptions - PR people from both organizations need to talk with each other and agree who will do what.  That conversation needs to happen before a crisis…not during.

So, here is my modest proposal:  Airline PR people, reach out to the Public Information (PI) officers at the major airports you fly to, and agree on what you can do together.  Understand their media environment, know where their press room is (if they have one) and what kind of resources and support facilities you can expect from them in an incident or accident.  For PI officers, reach out to your major airline public relations people and understand what they will do, what languages and cultural issues they may have with passengers and what resources they will bring in the event of an incident or accident…and will they  bring them.