Scoot's unfortunate New Year delay: How to communicate during a heated situation

Scoot hasn't had the smoothest take off (or landing) to this year. At the tail end of December, one of its flights departing Taipei on 30th December 2018 at 4.10pm was unfortunately extensively delayed for two days to 1st January 2019 early in the morning, causing 356 passengers to alter their New Year's plans.

As expected, the delay was met with unhappiness and was further aggravated as customers, according to The Straits Times, were told to source for their own hotels as nearby accommodations were  unavailable. In the same article, a passenger interviewed by the media expressed her unhappiness over the lack of communication from the airline and said there were "not many updates" from the airline.

Scoot however told The Straits Times  that at that point, the brand's priority was for the safety of passengers as it was arranging for for two rescue flights to ferry back affected passengers. The airline also said that the affected passengers were provided with meal coupons and confirmed that passengers were asked to seek own accommodation as the hotels near the airport were said to be have no vacancy. The airline added that reimbursement will be offered to those passengers as well as a SG$100 Guest Promise Voucher.

When asked about the lack of  communication, in a statement to Marketing, a Scoot spokesperson said that the airline understands the frustrations that customers face when their travel plans are disrupted, and it aims to keep them informed whenever possible.

"Certain information and arrangements might require more time to finalise but we will endeavour to provide an update as soon as possible. Nevertheless, we do acknowledge that there are still areas for improvement and we will continue to work on doing better," the spokesperson added.

During a separate conversation, a fellow marketer from the aviation industry, who chose to remain anonymous also said that sometimes they too lack the full information to share with their passengers at times of crisis. This is because all parties involved are mostly concerned with security and getting the situation resolved.  Moreover during a recent conference on PR and crisis communication, organised by Marketing, what came across clearly during the numerous talks is that in a crisis, there is always room for uncertainty.

Martin Alintuck, SEA managing director, Ruder Finn Asia told Marketing that in a crisis situation, it is less about the timing and more about the provision and quality of the information that is provided.

"Consumers can deal with what they know; it is what they don’t know that is unnerving," he explained. However important timing is, Alintuck says that what you know gets shared on a regular basis.  Even if a company doesn’t have all the information or has nothing new to say at the moment, it should use the opportunity to tell its customers that. In addition, it could also take questions even if it doesn’t have the answers and then promise to get the answers.

Alintuck also raised the importance in preparing for crisis situations. Be it whether a company handles a crisis well starts long before a crisis with preparedness.

"Every company must think through what kind of crisis it may encounter and prepare for as many eventualities as possible and realistic," he said. He noted that during a crisis, a representative from the company needs to be with the impacted customers, talking and sympathising with them, while answering their questions. Companies need to be present and show customers that the company cares.

"A crisis can impact a company’s image, stock price, employee morale and customer loyalty. However, identifying and training for a crisis will make the actual handling of a crisis much smoother," he added. Moreover, the company has to determine how to mitigate the unhappiness of the customers.

One can never make everyone happy all the time, but the effort will be recognised and appreciated.

Wesley Gunter, PR Director, Right Hook communications said that in the case of Scoot, keeping passengers updated at least hourly through SMS or email alerts would be a good way to prevent them from speculating and sharing updates on the situation on social media. He also added that separately, Scoot should also ensure that its social media channels are updated regularly with any news pertaining to the issue.

The worst thing any organisation can do in the middle of a crisis is to have radio silence for extended periods.

According to Gunter, one of the things Scoot could have done was to check if there were any delayed passengers that had special needs such as those with young children or elderly and see how help could be prioritised.