COVID-19: A public relations opportunity for airlines and cruise lines

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Rene A. Henry is the author of ten books including Communicating In A Crisis, a book used as the text by some universities. He also writes on customer service and many of his articles are posted on his website www.renehenry.com

By Rene A. Henry

Every crisis offers outstanding public relations opportunities for forward-thinking, responsible executives. Since both the airline and cruise line industries are asking US taxpayers to bail them out to the tune of some $100 billion or more, I believe now is the time for them to do something to show the world their appreciation.

Thousands of US citizens from various countries are stranded throughout the world. While the US State Department is doing little or nothing, Germany and Israel took the leadership and are chartering airlines to bring home their citizens at no cost to their people.

Congress and the White House are pondering conditions for the financial gifts such as not allowing stock buybacks and restricting management bonuses, but airline chief executive officers could step forward and say they are ready to send planes to various countries to bring home citizens without any charge. The Donald Trump administration is discussing using US military aircraft for this effort.

This would be one small “thank you” Alaska, American, Delta, United, and other airlines could show for getting help from the American public that it has nickeled-and-dimed and made flying a hassle since de-regulation. There should be no cost to any passenger and hopefully, the airlines would not charge the passengers they are bringing home for any luggage or other money-generating gimmicks the industry has used since it was deregulated.

Most cruise lines are foreign-owned and very few US citizens work onboard the ships. The traveling American public has been the profit generator for the industry. Many cities and states are scrambling now building temporary hospitals and other spaces for those who have tested positive or are infected with the virus. Consider the relief to US hospitals if ships that accommodate thousands of passengers were docked in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and other cities.

A cruise ship would be a perfect solution to accommodate those in need as well as the medical staff. Ships are already equipped with all the facilities needed to house and feed everyone. Necessary medical equipment and supplies could be brought on board. During World War II all luxury cruise ships were converted to transport ships. Some cruise ships were responsible for exacerbating the uncontrollable spread of the virus and many large ships will be available now, and in the near-future with few people cruising these days.

Since several cruise lines had previous viruses spread quickly throughout their ships, such as Norovirus, I was surprised none had a crisis plan in place to immediately ask help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the National Institute of Health (NIH) and pay to have medical staff immediately provide assistance.

The expense involved by both the airline and cruise line industries to do this would be nominal compared to what I believe they are now spending for lobbying. It would be a nice way of showing appreciation to the American taxpayer for a financial bailout to keep a foreign company profitable and in business. It also would be an outstanding public relations opportunity that would win many friends and future passengers.

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