My Pilot Also Needs to be the Chief Communications Officer

November 4, 2013

By Bill Duggan

I was on a plane to LA this past Friday when the airport was attacked.  I heard about it from a woman in my row who was watching in-flight television.  I immediately bought the in-flight TV and watched CNN on and off for the next four hours.  The television reports made it clear that many or most flights were not taking off from LAX but flights were landing or being diverted to other airports (a colleague of mine was diverted to Long Beach).  The reports also informed me that there were no cars allowed inside the airport and showed video of people walking away from the terminals with their bags.  The TV reports mentioned shuttle buses and taxis were available outside the airport.

I should note that Wi-Fi was not available on this flight so the internet and social media were not resources at the time.  Thank goodness for the information provided by the television as we heard next to nothing from the pilot or crew.  When it was announced that the plane was descending, there was a very brief mention of an “incident” at the airport earlier in that day.  No more than that.  No mention on how the passengers on this flight would be affected and no advice on what to expect upon landing.  A friend of mine who was on a later flight had the exact same experience.

Plain and simple, airline pilots need to do a much better job keeping passengers informed of relevant information.  Airline pilots must be chief communications officers!  I have often been frustrated with the lack of information provided by pilots, e.g., “Why have we been going in circles for the past half hour?”  That needs to change as consumers expect much more from their interactions with brands.  Yes, airlines should think of themselves as brands and employees should think of themselves as brand ambassadors, especially those in-flight employees, led by the pilot.

It was widely reported that the first reports of the LAX shooting came from social media.  When all (or most) airplanes have Wi-Fi, of course, the internet and social media will be available to passengers.  While passengers would then have information (or perhaps misinformation) from the internet and television, information from the person flying the plane is critically needed.

I think this LAX incident (as incredibly unfortunate as it was) provides an opportunity for airlines to re-examine their in-flight communications policies and to better train their pilots to be chief communications officers.


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