Proactive customer engagement is key for airlines during Israel flight ban

Proactively reaching out to customers is a main communications strategy for airlines that have temporarily halted flights to Israel, such as Lufthansa and American Airlines.

Lufthansa and other airlines have temporarily halted flights to Israel.
Lufthansa and other airlines have temporarily halted flights to Israel.

NEW YORK: Proactively reaching out to customers is a main communications strategy for airlines that have temporarily halted flights to Israel, such as Lufthansa and American Airlines.

On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration banned US airlines from flying to Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport for 24 hours, shortly after a rocket landed about one mile from the site. The FAA said in a statement that the ban was necessary due to the "potentially hazardous situation" relating to the ongoing problems in Israel and Gaza. The ban was extended for up-to-an-additional-24-hours on Wednesday, while the FAA continues to monitor and evaluate the situation, according to a statement.

"During a situation like this, airlines must proactively reach out to customers and continuously communicate with the public [on updates]," said Nils Haupt, Lufthansa Group’s director and head of corporate communications for the Americas.

Lufthansa made the independent decision on Wednesday that "based on an analysis of presently available information," it will continue to suspend flights into Thursday, regardless of the FAA’s decision going forward, according to a statement.

"We regret the discomfort this decision causes our customers whose safety is our highest priority," Lufthansa’s statement said. "It goes without saying our staff at the airport and in the service centers will do all possible to further assist our passengers."

The decision was made by Lufthansa’s crisis committee, which has been meeting regularly and basing choices on authority recommendations and its "own perceptions on [the situation]," said Haupt. He added that the committee is taking "lots of sectors" into account.  

The German airline linked to a press release about the flight ban on its website from the Lufthansa Facebook and Twitter pages on Tuesday, and will continue posting information on its site and social media channels as updates occur, Haupt said.

Additionally, Lufthansa has been reaching out to affected customers by texting or calling them directly.

The ban applies to all Lufthansa Group airlines, including Lufthansa, Germanwings, Austrian Airlines, Swiss, and Brussels Airlines. Each airline has its own independent comms channels and is "free to communicate" on them, as well, said Haupt, adding that each airline is reaching out to customers independently.

"We want to avoid people coming to the airport and having to get the information there," Haupt explained.

Delta has also suspended flights until further notice, making its decision autonomously, the airline’s CEO Richard Anderson said in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday.

"We will not allow a flight to be dispatched over Iran, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Afghanistan, or North Korea," he told CNBC. "We make this decision wholly independent of any geopolitical or regulatory mandate."

Delta linked to a press release on its website about the Tel Aviv flight suspensions from the company’s Twitter page on Tuesday.

US Airways and American Airlines had not posted a press release on its sites or used Twitter to communicate the situation as of Wednesday afternoon. However, the company posted its Israel travel policy on its US Airways and American Airlines websites.

In addition, the company’s reservations team had contacted customers who were ticketed on the canceled flights and helped to re-accommodate them with later flights or travel on another airline, said American Airlines’ corporate comms manager Matt Miller.

US Airways will resume flights to Israel on Thursday if the FAA approves, according to media reports.

"If you are a global carrier, this kind of challenge is to be expected; and although it is challenging, it is manageable," said Haupt.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been tweeting about the ban since Tuesday, linking to statements on his website which oppose the FAA’s decision.

His initial tweet stated: "This evening I will be flying on El Al to Tel Aviv to demonstrate that it is safe to fly in and out of Israel."

This conflict comes after a Malaysia Airlines’ passenger plane was reportedly shot down by a surface-to-air missile in Ukraine near the Russian border last Thursday.

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