Cathay Pacific flight 884: Anatomy of an airline diversion in the age of the connected traveller

Lots of flight diversions take place every week, due to minor reasons and major. Cathay Pacific flight 884, from Hong Kong to Los Angeles also diverted on July 29 this year, to the remote island of Shemya, in the north Pacific. While there was nothing extraordinary about the diversion, what caught attention was the video released by a passenger, detailing what went on inside the flight as it prepared to land.

Even some frequent travellers may get goosebumps watching the video, where the passenger goes from confused about the situation, to nervous about potentially landing on water, to finally relieved that it would be a normal landing. It’s worth watching the video before diving into the anatomy of a modern day airline diversion, and what airlines should be doing to stay ahead of the game.

The realities of a modern day airline crisis

The age of connected traveller means that passengers are travelling with multiple devices, and can use them to constantly share their travels. Very often, we see eyewitness accounts being shared Live on the internet, which then get captured by the traditional media around the world. Any news editor worth his salt is on Twitter today, and wouldn’t wait for that press release from the airline for clarification. We’ve seen this happen in the Transasia crash, which was captured Live on video, and previously in the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco.

So what should the airlines be doing to stay ahead? Here are a few pointers:

  1. Be prepared for the accidental spokesperson, who will be sharing every detail with the world
  2. Be prepared that everything will be shared – the food you give them, the path the pilot took while landing, the instructions from the crew and more.
  3. Airlines need to update multiple channels constantly
  4. Airlines should reach out to the passengers and potentially their relatives online
  5. Outlets like Flightradar24 will have the same information as the airline Operations Control, and share it Live on Twitter. If your airline still doesn’t have a screen showing Flightradar24 and live tweets, get one installed soon!

Despite this being a constantly evolving situation, Cathay Pacific did remarkably well during the incident. Here are six reasons why Cathay Pacific was exemplary:

  1. Cabin crew were professional and assisting passengers with the emergency procedures
  2. Constant updates on its website and Twitter
  3. Replies and engagement with others participating in the online discussion
  4. Sent staff from its crew base in Vancouver, to Anchorage, to assist the stranded passengers
  5. Sent a relief flight to Anchorage as soon as possible
  6. Issued $300 per passenger for the inconvenience

How the CX884 diversion played out online

Is your airline ready for dealing with the connected traveller? Get in touch today, to discuss how SimpliFlying may be of help. Meanwhile, we re-iterate from our previous best practices on airline crisis communications:

Five Rules of Effective Crisis Communications:

  1. Acknowledge as quickly as you can that you know something has gone wrong.

  2. Establish official channels / pages where people can regularly seek updated information.

  3. Quickly get hold of accurate information and share it transparently, without corporate speak or legalese.

  4. Keep an eye out for rumours and quash them sooner than later.

  5. Follow-up is critical. A single, quick statement within two minutes is useless unless you follow-up regularly with updates, displaying your commitment to the cause.

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