The first thing for a business to do in a crisis is to stay calm, review operational processes and mitigate and manage with steady and measured common sense action – let the public see a company doing its best in difficult circumstances. Sadly, this headline was avoidable: “Coronavirus: Robin Swann ‘shocked’ at images of packed flight.”
Why on earth did Aer Lingus think that simply taking fares was the priority? It wasn’t good enough to claim, as the company did, that it needed direction from Government; giving the appearance it could do nothing more. This was a communications #fail that could have been avoided.
First, operating a flight during a pandemic, where social-distancing is a key message for all, means an airline will take a view on how full a flight needs to be, ” how many seats should be sold on any given flight?”. Everyone else in society is doing its best, a company should make every effort to ‘do the right thing’.
Second, the company has now put on a second flight. That seems to be the sole action taken, or at least communicated to the public. But as lock down eases, that isn’t really enough if the attitude of taking fares as a priority persists.
Three, if as a public facing company you want to have the customer believe everything is being done that can be done then there are basic process steps that could at least have shown a willinging to put passenger safety first.
a) there is only one flight a day to London (the only service from Belfast City Airport), so speed to have the gate ready for the next service isn’t a priority. It seems everyone was asked to board in the same way as has always been the case – all at once. Staggering the boarding didn’t seem to ever cross the mind of the flight operator to assist social distancing (at least in principle).
b) a plane is a crowded enclosed space at the best of times. Either tell passengers that unless they are wearing a mask they won’t be permitted to board, or issue masks at the boarding gate as you stagger boarding. Even if we don’t know how effective masks are in stopping the spread of the virus, we don’t know it isn’t effective. Therefore this seems a simple, sensible precaution. It isn’t clear if the cabin staff were wearing masks but, on an employee safety point, if they weren’t they should have been; and if they were that should have been a factor in giving a thought to the passengers.
c) have a bit of common sense. It doesn’t take Government advice or direction to apply some thought to exceptional circumstances and, by the sixth week into this emergency lockdown period, someone in the organisation could have somehow just given a small thought to how a packed plane would look in the court of public opinion.
When travel by air starts to pick up, hopefully other airlines will have a regard to how Aer Lingus handled itself here, and having the benefit of hindsight make adjustments that show passengers their health and safety are a priority. At the moment Aer Lingus is the only option if a person needs to travel to London, but when choice is returned it will be interesting see the impact of Aer Lingus’s lack of thought on ticket sales.