January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 left New York’s LaGuardia Airport for Charlotte, North Carolina and ended up in the Hudson River. In October 2008, Vice President James Olson and his department revised the company’s crisis communication plan. They also had a “tabletop drill” in December 2008 and the drill simulated a catastrophic accident.
Clearly, the problem in this case study is the fact that an airplane ended up in the Hudson River. The executives and members of the communications team were not all together at this time. The Executive Vice President of People and Communications was on a different flight, heading to Phoenix for a vacation. The Senior Manager of Corporate Communications was in her office in Charlotte, NC. Another Senior Manager of Corporate Communications was in his Philadelphia office. The CEO was in Tempe, Arizona and the Vice President was in Phoenix. All the members of the communications team quickly dropped what they were doing and headed to their designated locations.
C. Situation (SWOT) Analysis
The strength in this situation is absolutely the way this communications team acted in a crisis. Olson had a great idea when he and his team decided to revise the communication plan. The communications team worked extremely well together, and was at the top of their game when it came to getting things done.
A weakness in this situation is that the communication team was not in the same area when disaster struck. This may have lengthened the starting process of their crisis plan. However, it is unrealistic to believe that all members of the communications team would be together and just waiting for something to happen. The team handled things professionally and respectably.
Choosing to perform a “tabletop drill” leaves US Airway with an opportunity to see which elements of their crisis plan works. To have a crisis communication plan is great, but to know it will work if you ever need to use it is even better.
The news media may act as a threat in this situation because they are constantly pressing for information. US Airways did not want false information out in the hands of the public until they were completely sure what was in the news was the truth.
D. Strategies (decisions or behaviors)
A. In October 2008, Olson and his department revised the communications plan and cut it to fewer than 15 pages.
B. In December 2008, Olson and his company had a “tabletop drill.”
C. The Corporate Communications team immediately began writing news releases.
D. US Airways created an emergency response “bridge line.”
E. Corporate Communications put up the customer and media website.
F. Crisis management/communications actions took place immediately.
E. Consequences (results)
A. This plan included only the elements that were needed if the crisis happened “now”.
B. This drill simulated a catastrophic accident and was a great help in determining which elements of the plan needed to be revised or perfected.
C. US Airways set a goal to send the first news release out within fifteen minutes. Although it took them a little longer than that, they were more concerned with being accurate rather than being fast. Updates were constantly being made as information was being confirmed but it was not distributed until the Airline gave the go-ahead.
D. The “bridge line” was created in order for the key company personnel to receive and participate in phone calls. Included in the key personnel were Operations, Customer Relations, Corporate Communications, and Legal and Regulatory teams. These teams either participated in phone calls between first responders and the FAA or listening to them.
E. The customer and media website was put up within 30 minutes of the initial notification of the accident. This was the primary source for news media and the customers. The Corporate Communications team worked with the marketing department to utilize search engines such as Yahoo and Google. They purchased key word terms and directed online users to their Flight 1549 website.
F. Various teams did many things after the notification of the accident. The Care Team was sent to New York and they provided cell phones and clothing for passengers. Members of the team were also sent to Charlotte where they provided on-site support for family members. The Family Support Hotline was set up and family members were able to call and receive information on their loved ones. The CEO sent a letter to all passengers explaining the procedure to recover their personal belongings. The letter included a check for $5,000 to cover immediate expenses and another check was mailed to reimburse the original airfare. Another letter was sent to customers informing them that they would be extended Chairman’s Preferred status through March 2010. This is the most prestigious flier level available.
US Airways take great care to ensure the safety of their customers on their planes. However, accidents do happen and things can go wrong. The various teams from this company acted quickly and efficiently and provided great customer service at the same time. Their communications plan seemed to be detailed and well-organized. This is a great example of crisis management. It was difficult for me to find a weakness for this case study because they executed everything with such self-control and superiority.