July 7, 2008

Flying Used to Be Fun

Posted in Personally..., Spin tagged , , at 11:25 am by R

I just plopped down in my office chair from a Fourth of July trip to California. Literally. I just got off a plane and came screaming into the office in the last (interestingly matched, I admit) clean pieces of clothing that I packed.

Sunday as I sat in the waiting area, unassuming and happily sipping on a latte and reading a new book, when out of NOWHERE my flight gets canceled! No, “it’ll be 30 minutes while we fix something…” no “We will be delaying this flight for an hour while we get a new plane.” Just canceled.

My husband and I make a really good team so as soon as that announcement came up he headed to the gate desk and I took off for the ticketing counter at a full sprint. Mothers yanked children out of my way, I moved deftly in between rolling suit cases and hurdled over mammoth-sized duffel bags, but I got to the ticketing agent a full three minutes ahead of any other customer.

As the gal behind the desk helped me, I realized that this was a well-trained dialogue. It was a public relations process set in place to manage all the little crisis scenarios that were about to approach her.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how simple public relations is. It’s relating to the public. And there are lots of publics: shareholders, investors, media, customers, employees, supporters, etc…

This airline (who shall remain nameless but is based in Tempe, Arizona and USED to be lovingly referred to as “America Worst”) has entrusted people who check customers in, verify I.Ds and properly (I hope) mark baggage with a monster public relations task — crisis communications for the 150-300 people who need a new flight to get where they are going. That’s a lot of trust. That’s a lot of work. That’s a big risk!

In addition to accommodating frazzled passengers, ideally, they still have to communicate the mission and strategy of the company, which seems to be, “Uhhh, this flight isn’t full and gas is so expensive that it will actually cost less to inconvenience you.” But that’s just my projection.

It comes down to this: as Public Relations practitioners, when we create strategy and messaging, we’ve got to remember that it’s probably not always going to be communicators doing the communicating to the most important audiences. That’s why messaging must be beautifully simple and strategy understood on every single level of the company.

Just food for thought that came to my mind as I waited in the security line again this morning.

By the way, I got delayed again this morning. There’s no rest for the weary… but I think that goes for passengers and airline personnel.



1 Comment »

  1. N.J. Stewart-Smith said,

    This message reminds me of fall 2005 when a certain airline (which shall remain nameless……) left ABQ before you could sprint to the ROW gate. Perhaps you could share that airport experience on a slow day. ; )

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