The news this morning has been full of reports that environmental campaigners managed to force Stansted airport to close after they invaded the runways. Now, I don’t want to comment on the rights or wrongs of the protest or the action taken by the campaigners. What does interest me though is that stranded customers are complaining that they are not getting the information they need to decide what to do or where to go or, in some cases, how they are going to get home.
I can sympathise with the travellers; I remember trying to get out to Boston in January just as the BA flight from Beijing crash-landed. We’d just got onto the Heathrow airport ring road and found that every road was being closed and police were suddenly everywhere. Thankfully I have a friend “on the inside” so was able to find out quite quickly what had caused the chaos. However, we were not given any information from our airline or from the airport about whether our flight would go ahead, or which terminal building to go to, or even how to get there (yes, we stood in the car park, watching busses roll past for almost long enough to miss the flight on the advice of the little voice that lives in the little “help” box in the bus shelter).
I find it quite astounding that with the technology available today, and the amount of money that passes through the air travel industry, no one has come up with a disaster communications system yet. Something that will quickly, calmly and regularly give customers information; even if its a simple “we’re trying to sort out your flights, bear with us”. I know there are solutions to this problem. SMS is top of the list of tools to use. Not only can messages be sent direct to customers (I know this is true, we even pitched to work with a company doing exactly that earlier this year), but the ‘crazier’, more customer friendly airports could even go as far as to throw a few LED screens around the airport grounds with updates on flight info and, yes, SMS alerts to let poor drivers know why all the roads are suddenly closed.
There really is no excuse for airlines and airports not to have a communications strategy in place to deal with these situations. At the very least, they have a loud speaker system don’t they? So, come on airlines, show us how hip and down with the kids you are. Snd ur psngrs a txt 🙂