COVID-19 guide for Airline Chief Cancellation Officers (CCOs)

Last week we held our third weekly COVID-19 Airline Task Force call, this time with Chief Commercial Officers. The aim was to discuss what commercial decisions airlines have to make when coping with the novel coronavirus outbreak, including processing cancellations, managing (low) capacity, motivating teams and dealing with governments.

Here’s what you can learn from some of the top airlines CCOs.

Step1: Adapt to the changing demand

Plan ahead for flight changes

Many countries around the world have been adopting sweeping measures, including imposing travel bans, shutting down airports, or completely sealing their borders to contain the coronavirus.

For most airlines, this means that gradual international and domestic flight cancellations are inevitable. What airlines can do now is to react to the changing demand one day at a time and prepare logistics accordingly to ground aircraft and bring flight crew back to their bases.

“I am now the Chief Cancellation Officer of the airline.”
Roland Jaggi, Chief Commercial Officer, Aegean Airlines

Give flexibility to your passengers

One of the biggest challenges of flight cancellations no doubt is dealing with the affected passengers, especially when trying to optimize and sustain the business during COVID-19.  

We have seen a number of airlines switching from providing refunds to offering only travel credits or vouchers. While it is a logical move for the airline, for most people losses loom larger than gains and, therefore, has to be communicated with care.

Take care of your crew

As more and more planes are being grounded and crew being sent to their bases, another challenging question arises about keeping airline flight staff busy.

Even among the most passionate airline teams, temporary layoffs, salary cuts and unpaid leaves are taking place. Some airlines like easyJet, Virgin Atlantic and SAS, have helped their crew members find temporary jobs, mostly to assist medical staff at hospitals during the outbreak.

Step 2: Seize the opportunity to improve

Golden opportunity for resolving fiscal issues

Recently, a study from Capa made headlines when it predicted that most airlines would go under by the end of May without government help. Although some were in better financial health than others before the COVID-19 crisis, this is the right time for airlines to stand united and urge governments to consider extending lines of credit, reducing infrastructure costs and easing taxes long-term.

“We’re all in this together.”
Sanjiv Kapoor, Chief advisor, GoAir & Former CSCO, Vistara

Find ways to do good deeds

Despite flights being suspended, many airlines have been cooperating with governments to operate repatriation flights, while others have transformed their planes to deliver goods and supplies. However, Aegean has cooperated with an oil company Hellenic Petroleum to offer free cargo flights for transporting medical supplies (Aegean provides aircraft and crew, while Hellenic Petroleum covers fuel costs).

Lead from the front

In times when most airlines have to reduce the number of staff and cut their salaries, airline leaders must set an example and take the largest salary cut themselves. Otherwise, airlines risk with making employees disappointed as they are doing sacrifices while the senior leadership continues unaffected.

See our eBook “CEO as the face of the airline” for examples of how remarkable airline CEOs are leading from the front during COVID-19.

Step 3: Keep spirits high

Time for exceptional creativity

During this period, conventional marketing obviously won’t work which is why airlines have to be creative to hit the right note during a global pandemic.

For example, S7’s latest campaign rewards frequent flyers, the very people who the airline would normally want in the air, for staying at home. While pushing an important message (stay at home) it gets S7 publicity, at a time when 95% of news about airlines involves bail-outs and redundancies.

“Exceptional circumstances demand exceptional creativity.”
Bert van der Stege, Chief Commercial Officer, Swoop

Alleviate stress and anxiety

Working from home may sound easy in theory, but staying productive for most first-time remote workers can be challenging, especially those with children at home.

On a more strategic level, having a clear, consistent information, overall direction and salaries paid on time will definitely keep them committed.

On a more personal level, it is important for team leaders to have daily video calls to follow up with everyone.

“This is the first time I am working from home in my 40 year career.”
William Boulter, Chief Commercial Officer, Indigo

Keep employee morale high

Although it’s still soon to learn from the early recovery in China, getting back to normal might happen faster than expected.

While employees’ to-do lists will get shorter and motivating them will become harder, work with your teams to be ready when it’s time to restart. Continuing to operate some flights as long as possible will maintain confidence among staff and customers alike.

We have prepared a PDF guide with the key recommendations so you can easily share it with your colleagues. Feel free to download it here.

Special thanks to Sanjiv Kapoor, William Boulter, Bert van der Stege and Roland Jaggi for sharing fast-changing commercial realities.

Looking for more insights on how to deal with the COVID-19 crisis? On April 21, in partnership with Aviation Festival, we will be conducting a free webinar on the best practices for airlines to restore brand confidence through COVID-19Sign up now!

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