Lessons From the Crash of Air France 447

By Robert Mark on June 21st, 2009

Having just traveled to Paris on an Air France A330 a week before the crash of Flight 447, I took a rather personal interest in the crisis wondering whether it might have been the same aircraft I’d flown on the week before for starters and a host of other things. But the crash was obviously about much more than me. I didn’t lose anyone in the horrible event of June 1.

With a few notable exceptions, Continental and Southwest, I’m not normally very patient with airlines about how they interact with customers because they usually do such a lousy job of it. That’s why I found this analysis from SimpliFlying’s Shashank Nigam so interesting and worthy of a cross-post. Air France did quite a bit right after the crash as you’ll read here. He asks and answers the question, how can an airline brand survive a disaster? This piece first appeared a few weeks ago on the SimpliFlying blog.

Rob Mark

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As many of you have probably heard on the news, Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A330-203 (A332), disappeared a couple of nights ago, flying to Paris (CDG) after departing Rio Di Janeiro (GIG). It’s the first fatal crash of the A330 since 1992, when the plane went into service. Right now as Air France, the Brazilian military and Airbus work to find out the  minimize the public relations damage that is caused by any crash, especially an unexplainable lost aircraft, there are lots of lessons to be learnt in how a leading airline brand should deal with disaster.

What did Air France do well in the aftermath of the crash?

Though there are lots of people affected in the aftermath of an airplane crash, from the plane manufacturer to the air traffic controllers, priority must be given to the relatives of those lost in the accident. Air France as done a pretty decent job of this, despite not knowing where the plane was and the cause of the crash.

  1. Up-to date information was provided directly to the relatives, through dedicated phone lines, in French, Portuguese and through international numbers. The media were advised not to call this number.
  2. AirFrance.com was changed to a graphic-less look to mourn for the crash, and instead of seeing a normal booking engine, visitors saw links to getting more information about the crash.

Air France showed its empathetic side. About 100 professionally trained doctors and psychologists were made available to the relatives of those on the flight – over the phone, in France and in Rio. I’m sure this soothed some nerves and provided some comfort to the grieving.

These measures demonstrated that the Air France was well-prepared for such an eventuality, and wasn’t acting in a unprofessional manner. In fact, the psychologists and doctors are part of a team of 4,000 volunteers trained to help in crises situations!

What else could Air France have done (and other airlines can do)?

There are two more things I feel Air France could have done to augment the rest of its efforts.

Use Twitter! I heard about the crash first on Twitter. I’m sure many others did as well. It’s a well-recognized medium of information transmission these days. Alaska Air recently updated its passengers of the disruptions caused by the volcanic eruptions recently using the tool. And given its real-time and viral nature, I’m sure releasing the latest information on Twitter would add wings to any airline’s efforts.

Add a personality to the brand – don’t be faceless. Taking a leaf out of Rohit Bhargava’s book, in difficult times, people want to hear from and be comforted by a person, not a company. Many large corporations today tend to be faceless, and adding a dash of personality to the brand can go a long way. What do I mean? Richard Branson is the personality of Virgin, Tony Fernandes is the face of AirAsia and The Singapore Girl represents Singapore Airlines. And people relate to these “personalities” much more than they can to an airline. And that can come to the airline’s rescue in tough times.

What do you think? Though it’s a sad incident, how many marks would you give Air France for dealing with the situation professionally? Have they left much to be desired?

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2 Responses to “Lessons From the Crash of Air France 447”

  1. Joe Says:

    I think the vertical stabilizer snapped off first, causing the plane to go into a flat spin or Dutch roll. This caused large disparity between the speed from each side of the aircraft. I hope the black boxes are recovered, so we’ll know for sure. Otherwise, Airbus will not correct the problem.

  2. Robots Air Travel Finder | change-direction.com Says:

    […] Lessons From the Crash of Air France 447 Having just traveled to Paris on an Air France A330 a week before the crash of Flight 447, I took a rather personal interest in the crisis wondering whether it might have been the same aircraft Id flown on the week before for starters and a host of other things. But the crash was obviously about much more than me. I didnt lose anyone in the horrible event of June 1. With a few notable exceptions, Continental and Southwest, Im not normally very patient with airlines about how they interact Share and Enjoy: […]

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