Groundings magnify spotlight on airlines

The mainstream media is increasingly interested in airline technology since American Airlines grounded thousands of flights this month for safety checks. However, for outlets that specifically cover airline carriers, the key is to show how each new - or frequently used - part has an impact on the broader industry, says Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly.

The mainstream media is increasingly interested in airline technology since American Airlines grounded thousands of flights this month for safety checks. However, for outlets that specifically cover airline carriers, the key is to show how each new - or frequently used - part has an impact on the broader industry, says Seth Kaplan, managing partner of Airline Weekly.

"For us, the most important thing is to include the broader impact on the industry if you're talking about a new aviation technology," he says.

Aggressive coverage of the difficulties facing US carriers is also increasing because of worsening economic news, notes Jenny Dervin, director of corporate communications at JetBlue.

"Airlines are a major part of the economic story," she says. "For that reason alone, we'll be covered more than most other industries."

Reporters focusing on other beats, including travel, homeland security, the environment, and labor, also cover the airline industry on occasion. Yet airline stories tend to focus on problems the industry is going through or customer gripes, Dervin says.

"There are a lot of negative stories out there, but I wouldn't say they are underserved," she points out. "[With] airlines, customer expectations are going up, not down, so the media tends to reflect that."

David Castelveter, VP of communications for the Air Transport Association, a group that represents carriers, adds that the prominence of 24-hour cable news networks has made it more difficult for airlines to get their messages out. He notes that the cable networks immediately used "Is it safe to fly?" stories after American grounded its planes.

"Most experts will tell [you that] this isn't a safety issue, it's a compliance issue," Castelveter says, "but it's sexier to tell you the 'Is it safe to fly?' story and create fear that otherwise wouldn't exist."

Jennifer Urbaniak, Lufthansa communications manager for North America and president of the North American Airline PR Association, says it's a difficult task to pitch positive stories during aviation breaking news cycles, but that carriers can do so if they have a unique angle.

"You can do it if you have something that goes against the common perception," she says.

For instance, several aviation beat reporters covered stories this month on how Lufthansa is equipping planes to measure climate change at high altitude. In that case, the new technology fit perfectly with Earth Day-themed stories the reporters were writing, Urbaniak explains.

"You must have those stories in your pocket that you can pitch during slower times," she says.

Pitching... airlines

There are plenty of seasoned aviation reporters, so take the time to do some relationship-building with these journalists before you begin aggressively pitching

There are a host of groups putting out aviation-related statistics on everything from on-time arrivals to safety to fares, which means reporters will be looking for airline executives and experts to add perspective to these numbers

Look for upcoming seasonal opportunities, like summer travel, to highlight new aviation features or amenities

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