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How to protect your airline’s reputation

By David Bennett | April 18, 2024

When airlines get things wrong, the world notices. A bad experience can quickly go viral and end up in the news. In this blog, we explore the sector’s biggest reputation risks and how to prevent an incident turning into a crisis.
Aerospace|Direct and Facultative|Reputational Risk Management

Airlines are under constant scrutiny. Any incident, from a safety problem to an unpleasant interaction with a crew member, is likely to be filmed and posted on social media almost as soon as it happens.

Stories like this can quickly snowball and cause passengers to think twice before booking with the airline again. Little wonder that passenger injury and abuse were close to the top of greatest concerns in our recent Reputational Risk Readiness survey, along with active assailant attacks.

Based on the findings of our survey, and our experience of cases and claims, we’ve identified key risks facing airlines – along with steps you can take to prevent them or minimize the fallout if they happen.

Harm to passengers and crew

An airline's reputation can be significantly impacted by a safety incident if it is not handled with care.

It is imperative for airlines to implement comprehensive plans aimed at minimizing risks and mitigating potential fallout from such incidents.

  • Review safety, maintenance, and inspection procedures diligently to identify and rectify any potential safety breaches. Implement robust protocols for detecting and addressing safety concerns promptly.
  • Ensure thorough safety training for employees across all levels and foster a culture of open communication regarding safety issues. Conduct regular drills to ensure staff readiness in emergency situations.
  • Establish access to crisis management experts to swiftly respond to incidents, mitigate immediate impacts, and minimize injuries, losses, and reputational harm.
  • Take proactive measures to reduce the risk of harm caused by rogue employees. This may involve implementing stringent background checks, as well as providing mental health support and interventions.

Passenger abuse and discrimination

In another recent incident, an airline faced a media backlash after crew members appeared to discriminate against a passenger because they were unable to speak English.

Such incidents can be hugely damaging when most people carry smartphones and can record and publish videos in minutes.

  • Make sure your employees live up to your high standards of behaviour, for example by training crew in diversity and unconscious bias.
  • Also promote policies and codes of conduct that make it clear you will not tolerate abuse.
  • Have a damage limitation strategy in place if a video of your employees discriminating against customers appears online.
  • Monitor social media, so you know what is being said about your business online, can help you track adverse media. This will also help you understand when and how to react if something potentially damaging emerges.

Active assailant attacks

Despite heightened security measures in airports, the threat of terror incidents looms large in today's increasingly volatile world.

Active assailant attacks emerged as the second most significant concern in our Reputational Risk Readiness survey, underscoring fears that companies may mishandle such situations or inadvertently compromise security measures.

  • It is crucial to ensure that staff receive thorough training to recognize suspicious behavior and foster a security-centric culture within the organization.
  • Develop a clear and comprehensive action plan in the event of an attack and ensure that all staff are adequately trained on their roles and responsibilities.
  • Regularly conduct drills and exercises to maintain preparedness and continuously assess readiness levels.
  • Verify the functionality of communication systems and equip staff with basic first aid training to provide assistance to injured passengers effectively.

Environmental damage

Airlines are under increasing pressure to reduce their impact on the environment, from aircraft emissions to the de-icing fluids and chemicals that can run off into rivers and groundwater.

This may explain why environmental harm emerged as the number one reputational concern in our Reputational Risk Readiness survey.

  • Make sure you have a comprehensive environmental management plan that includes waste and hazardous substances – and effective crisis response if a pollution incident happens.
  • Invest in fuel-efficient aircraft, sustainable aviation fuels and carbon offsetting programs that help balance out the impact of your emissions.
  • Report on your environmental performance transparently and monitor progress towards your emission and waste reduction targets.

Helping you protect your reputation

WTW has partnered with some of the global leaders in this field to develop a holistic solution that can help prevent a reputational crisis happening and help you recover if an incident does occur.

Prevention: We’ve partnered with Polecat to develop a risk monitoring tool powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that allows you to track live sentiment and get ahead of any brewing story before it hits the headlines. Algorithms synthesize data from online and social media channels into dashboards and risk alerts for relevant media.

Risk quantification: Our Reputational Risk Quantification Model gives you an evidence-based value for the potential reputational damage likely to follow incidents most relevant to your business. This is based on statistical analysis, events data and our experience of reputational risk. The model can also help you map any gaps in mitigation and design a targeted program of reputational risk protection.

Reputational risk benchmarking: Our Reputational Risk Benchmarking Portal provides a picture of your company’s resilience against reputation risk. By completing a simple questionnaire, you’ll get a report detailing your reputation risk maturity score, benchmarking your approach against some of the world’s leading companies, and providing best practice recommendations on how to improve.

Risk transfer: Our reputational risk insurance solutions offer up to $50 million cover for loss of gross profit as a result of a significant adverse publicity event. Perils covered include damage by association with an affiliated business. Immediate interim payments are available to get through the crisis with support spread over up to 12 months to help you stay afloat in the aftermath.

Response: WTW offers access to experienced crisis communications experts who have managed crisis situations of all types around the world, from advice on media handling and strategy to leadership statements and speeches.

Rehabilitation: Our experts will work with you over the longer term to develop campaigns and communications to help you turn the tide of public opinion back in your favor.

To find out more about our Reputational Crisis Insurance and Risk Management Solution, please get in touch.


Head of Reputational Risk Management
Direct and Facultative

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