Airlines stress reality of new measure

New York: US airlines have been sending out reassuring messages to customers and staff since UK authorities arrested several suspected terrorists who were targeting commercial airlines traveling from Britain to the US. The messages encourage cooperation and stress that, though a crisis was averted, new security measures will wreak havoc on flight schedules.

New York: US airlines have been sending out reassuring messages to customers and staff since UK authorities arrested several suspected terrorists who were targeting commercial airlines traveling from Britain to the US. The messages encourage cooperation and stress that, though a crisis was averted, new security measures will wreak havoc on flight schedules.

While airline communications pros have experienced great surges of questioning and outreach, they stopped short of calling it a crisis.

While airline communications pros have seen great surges of questioning and outreach, they stopped short of calling it a crisis.  John Lampl, corporate communications VP for British Airways (BA) in the Americas, called the situation a "major incident."  

"We relayed statements to the media so they'd [understand] BA's flying program, as well as the baggage and commercial policy covering passenger rebooking and the like," said Lampl. 

The airline is advising passengers and employees to visit BA.com for regularly updated information concerning flights, delays, and newly implemented security restrictions.

"Our customers seem to have taken this in stride," said Tim Wagner, American Airlines' news desk manager and spokesman. "It's [technically] a crisis by the number of calls… [but] it's not the same thing as if there had been a wreck or there had been an actual terrorist attack."

AA has been directing passengers to its Web site.

"We've got everything on one Web page," he said. "We have lists that people have opted in for, and we've sent all of those people notifications [about] our comfort policy, meaning they can change or cancel flights without charge." 

"From a PR perspective, this was an excellent exercise in coordinating communication across many organizations and across many oceans," said Gina Laughlin of Delta's corporate communications department. "While we continue to review our crisis playbook after these types of incidents, we did not consider this or treat this as a crisis."

"Our need to communicate with the public has increased considerably," said Yolanda Clark, director of communications for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA has been using its updated Web site to communicate to the public, the media, and key stakeholders. TSA has also been holding frequent conference calls with airlines and airports.

Internal communications programs have addressed employee concerns about whether the new regulations apply to them and whether their boarding times will be affected by security lines.  

BA has been giving employees "advice on the state of operations via written, e-mail, and verbal channels," noted Lampl.

"With things changing as quickly as they have been, we have a lot systems that speak directly to the affected workers and then to the work groups as a whole," said Andrea Rader, director of corporate communications for US Air. "We have been updating our internal Web site, sending out information through various email systems as we get it, and we have set up e-mail channels."

Rader said that US Air employees have expressed the most concern about complying with the new regulations and reassuring customers that flights will be conducted with as much normalcy as possible.

"We have been trying to send our employees the same message we are sending our customers;" said Wagner, "This is the new reality at the airports."

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