Is communication really the key? Industry specialists discuss its importance and role of PR in maintaining brand reputation.
The aviation industry has increasingly found itself grappling with mishaps and customer complaints. Over the last few weeks, the aviation sector has faced a series of issues, ranging from safety concerns and technical malfunctions to customer service issues.
Instances of flight delays, cancellations, and baggage mishandling have not only affected airlines' operational efficiency but have also sparked widespread public discontent.
According to a Traffic Report from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, a total of 712 passenger-related complaints have been received by the scheduled domestic airlines in December 2023. Out of this, 705 complaints (approximately 99%) were addressed. At 61.8%, the major reasons for complaints were flight problems, followed by refunds (12.8%) and baggage (11.9%).
Whether it is inside or outside the aircraft, it is always important to communicate efficiently.Sanjay Mehta, joint CEO, Mirum India
There have been certain episodes involving Indian airlines, including a passenger on an IndiGo flight from Delhi to Goa assaulting the pilot after a long delay. Another IndiGo flight from Goa flying to Delhi diverted its route to Mumbai due to dense fog. This resulted in passengers sitting on the tarmac and eating food. A SpiceJet passenger was stuck inside the washroom on a Mumbai to Bengaluru flight and could only step out after the plane landed. Meanwhile, celebs, including Radhika Apte have shared Instagram stories of being trapped in aerobridges.
Customers appreciate honesty and transparency and when they do not get it, you certainly risk your brand image, especially in the era of smartphones.Amit Wadhwa, CEO, dentsu Creative India
All of these incidents have not only created a dent in the airlines’ image but in the entire Indian aviation sector. How can the sector rise clean from these ashes?
Sanjay Mehta, joint CEO, Mirum India, underscores the importance of effective communication from the brands' perspective. “Whether it is inside or outside the aircraft, it is always important to communicate efficiently. One runs a critical business like an airline so they need to make sure to deal with it efficiently. There needs to be more transparency in today's social media world,” he says.
Seeing this from a consumer’s perspective, Amit Wadhwa, CEO, dentsu Creative India, says that such incidents leave a bad taste and urges brands to resolve their operational issues. “Customers appreciate honesty and transparency and when they do not get it you certainly risk your brand image, especially in the era of smartphones where everything can be recorded and shared online,” he says.
Role of PR in crisis
After the IndiGo airlines’ tarmac incident, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has fined the company and Mumbai airport operator Rs 1.20 crore and Rs 60 lakh respectively. However, these companies have faced a much greater loss of their brand image. The PR firms are best placed to alleviate the turmoil.
Without naming the airlines’ name, Wadhwa recalled an instance when he was flying from Bangalore and his co-passengers were hesitant to fly by that carrier.
Enforce penalties on airlines who refuse to compensate travellers for errors made by them making it safe for them to travel.Tarunjeet Rattan, managing partner, Nucleus PR
“Communication mistakes can happen once but not multiple times. The weather is not in anyone’s control but how one handles the situation certainly is. Everyone knows how the weather acts this time of the year, so as a brand one must be prepared. I am sure the communication can also be handled better in such situations,” he says.
Tarunjeet Rattan, managing partner, Nucleus PR, suggests a golden opportunity for brands to become consumer champions. She recommends airline companies make it mandatory to communicate on consumer rights as much as they do on offers.
PR is as good as its clients’ intention is. It will only be able to do what their clients intend to do.Manish Porwal, managing director, Alchemist Marketing and Talent Solutions
“Create an official GOI mass media and PR campaign that makes consumers aware of their rights across travel mediums. Enforce penalties on airlines who refuse to compensate travellers for errors made by them making it safe for them to travel, becoming their voice and winning consumer trust,” she says.
Manish Porwal, managing director, Alchemist Marketing and Talent Solutions, states, “PR is as good as its clients’ intention is. It will only be able to do what their clients intend to do. In sectors such as aviation and hospitality, any mishap has the potential to escalate significantly. It should also have some amount of risk building or risk mitigation inside.”
Mehta believes that in today’s time, people prefer to fly more and despite these incidents, the passengers will not switch airlines.
He remarks, “The investment and choice of travelling in aeroplanes will be constant. Government should also look at the technical possibility of bringing passengers back safely and timely to terminals where they can be comfortable.”
According to Porwal, an airline brand builds its operations but its capability building is not in line with its expansion leading to a fracture in the business. “Industries like airlines are even clearer as people talk about it. There is social media which is doing its job as it is very easy to get people's ears and eyes. On the one hand, our companies or airlines are doing as much to communicate though they are not, and on the other hand, social media is a two-edged sword. It can take one up or down. Therefore, a lot of people write, inform, or put disturbing videos and that becomes a problem area,” he adds.