How does a pilot strike affect the Air France and KLM brands (and what can be done about it?)

Time for pilots to hang their boots

Time for pilots to hang their boots

If you haven’t already heard, all pilots in France are going on strike yet again this weekend. It almost seems like a futile attempt at getting a long weekend for themselves. That means, all air travel in France will shut down from 14-17 November, since no planes take off – not just for Air France, but all French airlines.

Poor KLM

The sad part is that it’s not Air France’s doing, yet, it’s going to have a significant impact on a brand that already has been tainted due to its history of striking staff. Moreover, now that KLM is tied up with Air France, its brand will be negatively as well, even though all Royal Dutch pilots are operating as usual. The fact that flights will be canceled and passengers stranded means that they will form a bad impression of the airline, which is likely to last long.

So, now that the strike is a certainty, what can AirFrance-KLM do now, and how can they deal with this better in the future, to minimize impact on the brand?

Prevention is better than cure

In France, workers (of all kind) always seem to go on a strike to show their strength and then after some time, negotiations and “talks” begin. Interestingly, more often than not, a compromise agreement is reached by the end of talks.

How about this… why not try talking first, and possibly resolve the matter before striking? I’m sure that’s been tried sometimes, but why not exhaust all options before actually going on a strike, and talking and then resolving. As it is, air travelers these days are a frustrated lot. Prevention is better than cure, isn’t it? But still, the strike is happening. So what’s a good cure?

Preparedness ensures trust

Air France must be familiar with striking staff now – it seems like a regular affair at the airline. Showing to their customers that they are well prepared for this crises is what will create some trust. Knowing first-hand that customers will often be full of rage and asking for unreasonable compensations, Air France officials must deal with them with empathy and compassion. They should be patient and be a little accommodating. Simply, they can appear in control if they smile more, as Patrick Hanlon recommends.

I know, this is easier said than done, but in tough times, the preparedness of an airline must be clearly visible to the customers, in order to prevent a complete depletion of trust. A brand that stands by their customers in tough times commands their loyalty.

Resilience can re-build confidence

The most important factor for building confidence in a brand is the ability of a company to bounce back from a shock. Once the strike is over, Air France will need to ensure that its operations are back on track as quickly as possible, and affected passengers are compensated in some manner. Again, all the preparedness and advance planning will be visible for all to see and will speak volumes about the management.

It is difficult situations like these, which if handled well, can turn into hidden opportunity for airlines. But I’m still not sure how KLM can de-couple itself from it’s twin Air France’s problems, so that it’s own brand stays intact. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Do you think this situation can be leveraged in some way by KLM? May be by sending its own reserve pilots over to Air France? Is that even possible? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section…

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Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco. Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others. Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
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