Unless you live under a rock you will have heard about the snowfall the country dealt with over the weekend, in some places it fell hard and fast and caused widespread disruption. I’m currently living in Cheltenham seeing out the last few months of my degree and here we simply had a light dusting of snow followed by a night of rainfall so I woke on Sunday morning to clear roads, much to my dismay. Not.
This time last year when we had slightly more than a dusting of snow that brought the country to a halt, I was on my work placement, travelling from Hertfordshire to London Bridge on the ever so reliable London Underground. I remember standing at the station in the morning shivering uncontrollably after trudging through the woods to find out I had a 45 minute wait in the freezing temperatures at 7am. Not impressed! What I wanted in that moment, aside from my bed and a hot chocolate was information, I wanted to know when the next train was coming, would I actually be able to get on it, how long will that service take to get to Baker Street, will I get to work before midday? I had all these questions and no answers, and the frustration was mounting. As well as TFL being slated for their lack of communication during the extreme weather conditions so were the airports, airlines, road safety and every other form of transport that messed up our days. Snow seems to have this damaging effect on the UK, it brings everything to a halt. No one goes anywhere. Why?
I was in New Zealand last summer, at the time of booking my tickets I was unaware I was swapping my scorching hot British summer for below freezing temperatures. I made do and turned out to be one of the best adventures of my life (so far), my point of all this is that I was travelling on a coach on the south island where the driver had to manoeuvre this vehicle around mountain tops in deep snow. Granted I feared for my life but if they can do that on a mountain top why can’t we get our 4×4’s on the M25 without a worry.
I was in Queenstown during the snowstorm last summer that the whole world heard about, it was the first time they had seen snow in the town for over 15 years. And after one day of nothing coming in or going out of the town they were over it, the mountains were opened and it was back to business as usual and I was heading up to the slopes for my first ever snowboarding experience, and to get there the snow chains went on. Once again my stomach was in my mouth as we eased our way up the side of the mountain, and once again I sat there thinking if a big old bus can climb up the side of a mountain why can’t cars climb the hills in High Wycombe?!
We’re ill-equipped to deal with weather extremes and more importantly communicating when these weather extremes hit. Preparations and communication seem to be the key in these situations, and granted you can’t always prepare for an ash cloud, but that is where crisis communication plans come into play. Using an agency to help plan for these kinds of events is an integral part of forward planning and reducing the risk of being unprepared in high pressure situations.
The ones who get hit the worst with angry complaints and negative headlines at times like these are the airports and airlines, they have been criticised on numerous occasions for their lack of communication and engagement and the weekend just gone is no exception.
BAA airport operator was both praised and criticised for their communication and ‘snow plan’ this past weekend, they cancelled flights ahead of the snowfall and reacted well to the circumstances. Passengers were informed in good time, minimising disruption and confusion and the need for them to take to the internet to complain and voice opinions about the terrible service.
The use of social media in times like this can have a great impact on how the airline or airport authority is viewed during the situation and at a later date. Heathrow used their twitter feed to communicate constant weather and travel updates and were responding to individual requests for specific information. Using this channel as a way of communicating reduces the number of people needing to call and email direct and it also satisfies audiences need to receive information on a 24/7 basis.
It has become apparent through the different tragedies and natural disasters that have taken place in the last 12 years that the audiences need to be informed has grown stronger year on year. News has become a 24/7 necessity which can be accessed via a number of platforms, it has become this desperate need to be kept in the loop has become even stronger since social media has given us a more connected world.
So I guess there are a few points to take away from this blog:
1. The UK does need deal with extreme weather conditions at all – we’re all slowly coming to terms with this fact!
2. Crisis planning is a must – communication is the key to maintaining good relationships with you audience/customers. So even if BAA and Heathrow aren’t able to get flights off the ground at least they can tell people to stay at home until they can.
3. New Zealand is awesome so take a trip there if you can.