Of all of the business types affected by the current coronavirus outbreak, airlines are among the hardest hit. In addition to companies reducing employee travel, there's a high level of general anxiety around climbing in a metal tube with 150 strangers for a few hours, any of whom could be carrying anything from a sniffle to the next global pandemic.
If you are the CEO of one of those businesses, you have a tricky job right now. First, you have to make sure you have plans in place to protect your customers and your employees from getting sick. At the same time, you want that plan to give people confidence that traveling with your company is still safe. Otherwise, if people stop getting on your airplanes, you have a very real problem.
Delta's CEO, Ed Bastian, sent an email this morning to customers, revealing the company's plans for handling the current outbreak. In it, he gives a great lesson in exactly how to handle this type of situation.
Bastian writes that "For more than a decade, Delta has been preparing for such a scenario." Which, in many ways is true. Delta flies to locations around the globe, which means that it has to be ready for a range of events, including viral outbreaks. Specifically, the email mentions relationships with the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) that have helped Delta to develop "policies and procedures" to handle such situations.
Not only has the company taken steps to prepare, but this isn't the first time it has had to deal with such situations. For example, previous outbreaks like H1N1 and Ebola required the airline to refine its operating procedures. The email specifically mentions the way Delta has learned better ways to "circulate clean and fresh air in our aircraft with highly advanced HEPA filters ... and sanitize aircraft between flights."
By the way, this is different from "we've prepared," in an important way--it communicates that you've actually been through something before, and have taken that experience and used it to create a better process moving forward. That's an important aspect of reducing uncertainty and fear in this type of situation.
"We've Taken Action"
Finally, Bastian describes the action Delta is taking to protect its customers and team. For example, the company has established a command center in Atlanta to coordinate its efforts. It has also created a website to provide up-to-date information to customers about changes in flight schedules and current State Department travel advisories. Delta says it is also allowing changes to flights to affected areas without the usual change fees.
This might be the most important piece of all. A company like Delta can't possibly stop a global pandemic from occurring, but it can take steps to mitigate the impact it will have on its own business and the lives of the customers it serves. Customers want to know that you've taken all of that preparation and learning and put it into action. After all, a plan without action is a lot like a plane without wings--worthless.