For commercial airlines, the holiday season brings bigger profits, but with it comes overbooked flights, passengers anxious to get to their destinations, and increased threats to airports, companies, and customers. An estimated 51 million people traveled by plane during the 2017 holiday season, and this year is no different: airlines must maintain especially close watch on their brands and operations to ensure that they mitigate risk quickly should the unexpected happen. To do this effectively, airlines must have real-time information so that they can identify and respond to issues in their nascent stages and minimize negative outcomes.
Improving Security with a Fuller Picture
The holidays require airline security teams to be on especially high alert for threats. For example, last November, the United States Department of Homeland Security warned of rising terror threats to commercial airlines. Even airports have experienced attacks on premises, as events in Paris, Belgium, and Fort Lauderdale have demonstrated. When a threat is made – or worse, when an attack occurs – corporate security teams need to know instantly. Publicly available information sources, like social media, blogs, and the dark web, can surface indications long before traditional information streams. For example, during the Brussels Airport attack in 2016, public data sets contained information about the bombing 10 minutes before the first news reports were published.
These new data sets can also aid in preventing incidents because they help corporate security teams identify threats posted online. This happened in August when, amid a diplomatic disagreement between Saudi Arabia and Canada, a pro-government Saudi Twitter handle posted an image of a plane flying towards the Toronto skyline captioned, “sticking one’s nose where it doesn’t belong.” For many, the image recalled the September 11th attacks on the United States and caused global outrage and heightened security concerns for airliners operating in Toronto.
Beyond identifying threats and attacks, publicly available information can help corporate security teams gain visibility into incidents happening on their planes. Last year, a woman traveling aboard a flight from Newark to Buffalo for the holidays was sexually harassed by a male passenger. She notified airline personnel, and when they landed, the man was arrested. However, in a series of Tweets, the woman detailed what crew members could do in the future to prevent this sort of incident. Utilizing the hashtag “#dobetter,” she cited missteps like failing to move the perpetrator to a seat directly in front of the in-flight crew and continuing to keep the cabin lights off after the harassment was reported. Corporate security teams with access to this first-person account in real time could act on this event with greater insight and improve passenger safety.
Communications in a Crisis
However, not all disruptions are tied to safety, as passengers at John F. Kennedy Airport learned this past January when, after a water main break, flights in and out of Terminal 4 were severely interrupted and forced an evacuation of the baggage claim area. Though the airport quickly addressed the issue on Twitter, writing “there may be delays at #JFK. Please allow extra time and contact your airline,” they failed to update passengers as the day wore on. This led to confused and increasingly angry Tweets from stranded passengers, with one writing “what are you doing about baggage?!! We were told to leave the airport yesterday without ours.” Such widespread vitriol meant that this story was immediately picked up by media outlets and resulted in negative headlines around the world. While this issue was not tied directly to a specific carrier, had airlines been monitoring social media, they would have been able to address customers’ concerns and keep them updated on the status of their luggage.
In contrast, proactive communication can preempt customer dissatisfaction, as was the case this past November at San Francisco International Airport. With the catastrophic wildfires raging over 200 miles away, the air quality and visibility were so bad that scores of flights were delayed or canceled in San Francisco, prompting the airport to tweet “Butte County wildfires are impacting some flights at SFO.... Please check with your airline for flight details.” This statement, echoed by airlines, ensured that passengers were informed and mitigated some of the inevitable complaints. Travelers may not intuitively think that a fire unfolding far from the airport would have an impact on their plans, which is why proactive communication can help reduce potential passenger grievances.
The common thread through all these examples is information sharing. When customers are kept in the loop, they are more likely to react positively. The same is true for the airports and airlines themselves. Given access to real-time information, they too are kept in the loop and can respond to threats, reduce safety concerns and keep their customers apprised of any incidents that may affect their itineraries. A platform like Dataminr, that provides alerts derived from publicly available data, helps the airline industry stay informed in real time and make sharper decisions for customers and businesses.