Allegiant is a publicly traded, Las Vegas-based airline specializing in low-cost fares to traditionally underserved markets. A large part of its business is transporting passengers to high-volume tourist destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando.
Since 2012, Allegiant pilots have been represented by the Teamsters union. Negotiations on a new contract between the airline and its pilots has been ongoing, and in January 2015, union members voted in favor of a strike, and asked permission from federal officials to do so.
Matters came to a head in March 2015, when Allegiant learned that the Teamsters planned an immediate strike to disrupt Easter holiday weekend travel – 250 flights, thousands of passengers, and many stranded or unable to reach their holiday destination. With just three days to develop a response, the R&R team began working side by side with Allegiant executives on how to handle a still-developing situation.
Communications would have to be maintained across several different audiences. Allegiant passengers, employees, regulators, airport partners, elected officials – all would have to be kept up to date and engaged in the event of a systemwide strike. With a suspected strike action on Thursday, R&R team members began working out of Allegiant HQ on Monday, fully integrating with the Allegiant communications team.
We decided to pre-empt the Teamsters’ disruptive action on April 1, 2015. The company publicly announced that it believed such action was imminent and advised travelers that it would issue full refunds to anyone who may be affected over the next seven days. We used the company’s social media channels to point confused or worried passengers to resources that could help them. Allegiant’s proactive communications efforts gave the company control of the public conversation and earned it the trust and respect of its passengers.
R&R developed a crisis-specific microsite for passengers, which kept its heavy traffic away from the main Allegiant website. The site provided answers to frequently asked questions about the unfolding situation. Most importantly, we developed a capability within the microsite for passengers to email the Teamsters’ leadership, asking them not to strike and to return to the bargaining table. This functionality ensured that passenger frustration was focused away from the airline, insulating the company’s brand from negative customer feelings. Over the duration of the crisis, Allegiant passengers sent nearly 1,500 separate communications to Teamsters officials, with many of them detailing their specific travel plans and the hardship the strike would cause.
Taking the lead in messaging to the media allowed Allegiant to control the narrative, positioning them as the responsible advocate for thousands of passengers. Throughout the day, constant communication to elected officials, regulators and the media kept Allegiant in the positive light. By the end of the day, Allegiant had received a restraining order against the Teamsters, preventing a strike. No flights needed to be cancelled, and the tens of thousands of passengers were able to make it to their destinations as planned.
Immediately after the crisis was averted, Allegiant COO Steve Harfst emailed the R&R team: “We could not have achieved what we did without you. You helped us stay ahead, controlling the messaging, and helped us protect our brand and reputation with our customers.”
The greatest indicator of success came the following week, with the rate of bookings on Allegiant actually rising, the brand maintaining the full confidence of its customers.