EDITORIAL: Safety message needs targeting

This week's PRWeek/NOP survey into consumer attitudes towards air

safety should make encouraging reading for major airlines reeling from

the cost of implementing safety measures.

Sixty-seven per cent of the 1,000 respondents to the PRWeek poll said

they feel as safe, if not safer, travelling now as they did last year.

But there is a sting in the tail.

British Airways' and Virgin Atlantic's decisions to reinforce cockpit

doors have received substantial and supportive editorial coverage at a

time when it is most needed. However, according to this week's poll,

just under half of respondents felt that the airline industry overall

has not done enough to reassure passengers of their safety.

In particular, the survey reveals that the target group whose confidence

has been most affected are women - the major purchasers of family

holidays - and young people between the ages of 15 and 34, many of whom

will be economy class travellers.

Sir Richard Branson's decision earlier this month to market on the basis

of safety comparisons, has infuriated BA and created a pressure to

promote on the back of safety measures.

BA is currently conducting its own more detailed research to correlate

patterns in future demand with specific safety concerns - which would no

doubt make for interesting reading if it were ever to be made


The company's existing monitoring of the market points not surprisingly

to the terrorist atrocity of 11 September, and subsequent military

action in Afghanistan, as the main driver of the slump in forward

bookings in both business and economy. The very real fears of travellers

on both sides of the Atlantic are of course a great leveller, as it

matters not a jot to the potential hijacker whether you travel first,

business or economy class. But could there be a class issue here?

BA, of course, remains committed to its economy class travellers, but

could the company's overt concentration on the premium business market

over the last couple of years have given rise to a perception on the

part of economy class passengers - including those nervous women and

under 34-year-olds - that their concerns are secondary? And could this,

in turn, have been compounded by the media coverage of the safety risks

to economy class travellers of DVT on long-haul flights?

The investment in extensive measures to ensure the safety of staff and

passengers is laudable - and will hopefully go some way towards

reversing the falling passenger numbers - but as BA's new communications

director Iain Burns plans further safety-orientated PR activity he would

be well advised to more closely target messages and media to reach

female business and leisure travellers plus the youth market.

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