Ethiopian Airlines Hijacking to Geneva – Lessons in social media crisis management #ET702

On February 17, 2014, as Ethiopian Airlines flight ET702 flew past its scheduled destination of Rome, aviation experts and novices alike started sharing information online at the speed of light. It didn’t help that the airplane started “squawking 7500”, aviation radio-speak for a hijacking alert. Once the aircraft had landed — with only 10 minutes of fuel left and one engine flamed out — it was discovered that a rogue co-pilot had forced the plane to proceed to Geneva in order to seek asylum. No one was injured or harmed.



However, it’s what happened before the aircraft touched down that should be of concern to aviation executives globally. Previously, we have shared blow-by-blow details of what happened after the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco. We also detailed the different personas involved in the Singapore Airlines emergency landing in Baku recently. Now, we have prepared a presentation around the Ethiopian Airlines incident, that offers insights and lessons from a crisis management perspective to airline and airport executives, focusing on what happened even before the plane landed in Geneva. The findings may shock some of you. [push h=”16″]

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  • Download the latest “SimpliFlying Airline Crisis Guide” – An overview of 6 types of airlines crises concerning social media, including real-world case studies from recent years.
  • Preview Crisis Communications Quarterly Report – An in-depth report of the 15 most important airline crises and disruptions from the latest quarter, assessing how they were handled, and how they could have been handled better.


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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  • ProducerMatthew

    Hi! Thanks for including me in your presentation and your post. I wanted to clarify a few things:

    First, Flight Radar 24 was an excellent resource for the live maps that I tweeted, and I tried to source them as much as possible (only have 140 characters to work with). I want to make sure their product gets the right attention it deserves — it was a critical resource in telling the story early on.

    Second, I’m disappointed that Simpliflying labeled me as an “accidental spokesperson.” I have been a journalist for several years, and was reporting as a journalist Monday morning on the fastest and most-distributable platform available to me. The Reuters reporter sourced me because the guidance on the audio files I posted requested it (they removed the source in later updates). The BBC reached out to me as a journalist covering the story. I can’t speak for everyone who was covering the story that night — there were a lot of great people on top of it, some of who you highlighted — but speaking for myself, I operated as a journalist, not a spokesperson.

    Last, I’d like to reject the idea that, as far as this story goes, “social media is full of mis-information.” While it is true that social media has often caused erroneous information to go viral in the past, that was not the case here. In fact, the slide states as much (“while most of the information happened to be accurate”). One likely reason is because many well-known people who have been responsible for causing misinformation to go viral in the past (some who are journalists) were asleep when the incident took place. The cases cited by Simpliflying (“the door being destroyed,” “the plane crashing”) did not go “viral” and were not attributed in any mainstream news reports that I had seen, as the case has been in the past.

    Instead, the opposite happened: People like myself and the individuals you cited reported on information that we could see on flight maps, hear on live air traffic control audio and properly source. Aviation experts that were covering the story made it very clear when they were passing along their own analysis and not necessarily reporting on fact. And the general public had access to things like live air traffic control audio and live radar maps, so they could hear and see for themselves how the situation was unfolding in near-real time. No one can prevent misinformation from being reported on social media, but resources, experts and solid journalists can help prevent bad information from spreading. That’s what happened here — there are many other case studies in bad information going viral, but this isn’t one of them.

    Thanks again for including me, I appreciated your post 🙂

  • Jake Lewis

    Just to let you know that me and a few other #AvGeeks were tweeting within mins of it squawking 7500 which was over Sudan, We knew about this at around 12:00 (midnight) GMT, Check my twitter for proof, @jakelewisf1

    • Shashank Nigam

      Thanks for sharing that Jake! Do you still have those original tweets? We’d like to include those in the updated deck.

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