Turkey Attacks Create PR Problem for Global Airports

Once again, a terrorist attack has had consequences that have rippled internationally and across various industries. But the bombing at Turkey’s largest airport created a series of issues for air travel in general and tourist traffic in particular.

The question at hand is both simple and complex: how do you protect passengers and bystanders from such hateful carnage?

Turkey tried to take steps. In fact, that airport was once considered very safe. Passengers and guests were kept outside the hubs and inner areas of Ataturk to keep them from bunching, so the terrorists simply found where the people gathered and attacked there. To them, having “airport” and “terrorism” in the same headline was enough.

PR Perspective

The issue from a PR perspective is multifaceted. First, consider this issue is both simple and complex. Terrorism is simple, and it is terrifying. Stopping terrorists before they strike is a simple, easily articulated idea, but it’s the application that becomes complex, a delicate scale to balance with a considerable number of moving parts.

The PR challenge in this is that the traveling public wants to know the “simple” aspect – stopping terrorism – is being “handled” … though they don’t really want to think about how. After all, that’s when the complexity gets involved, and that leads to contemplation, over-thinking and because they don’t know all the moving parts and don’t have all the answers, fear.

The Present Reality

Even when there hasn’t been an attack in a while, this reality is present. Air travelers have it somewhere on their mind ever since 1972, when Lod Airport, not Ben Gurion, was attacked, leaving 26 dead and 80 injured. Israel, as they often are, were the first to take steps to combat terror. Many airports copied what the Israelis did to improve their security.

Then, after September 11 in NYC, airports once again addressed the clear and present danger of millions of people from everyone on the planet traveling through relatively small locations on a regular basis. From an operational standpoint, the issue is one of logistics, but for air travelers who just want to get from A to B without ending up on a list of names on the news, the issue is much more visceral and troubling.

This is the part that requires deft and practiced public relations. Airports and carriers must interact with their customers in a way that addresses this issue. Ignoring it is impossible and downplaying it will backfire almost every time.

David Milberg is a financial analyst in NYC.

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