Make communication a priority in crises

A family from the city spent eight hours not knowing what had become of their relatives, after a Chicago-bound Turkish Airlines flight they had boarded took an unexpected detour to Iceland and the passengers were unreachable. Nimesh Mehta (54), a was on his way back home to Chicago after attending a family function in Mumbai. Mehta, along with his 70-year-old aunt Sarojben Shah, was onboard flight TK 721, which took off for Istanbul. The duo was supposed to board TK 5 of the same airline, which was scheduled to land in Chicago. Instead, the flight ended up in Reykjavik, Iceland.

This report appeared on the front page of this paper yesterday. Mehta spoke about how they were in a fog of confusion about why the flight was diverted. He claimed that they were told the flight was diverted due to a medical emergency and technical snag. Mehta’s relatives in Chicago were frantic when the flight did not land as scheduled and clueless as to why it has been ‘cancelled’.

This case is not an isolated one. We see on numerous occasions that people are not given correct information when a service goes awry or not as scheduled. Examples abound of passengers swarming airline desks at airports when flights have been delayed or cancelled, with no spokesperson turning up for hours about what exactly is the nature of the problem.

Our local train folklore is peppered with avoidable tragic incidents. How many times have we read of commuters jumping out of stationary trains because the train has stopped suddenly? No announcement is made about why the train has stopped. Rumours start flying, panic sets in and a herd mentality grips commuters, who see one person jumping down and follow suit. Consequently, somebody is mowed down by an oncoming train.

Not just airlines or railways, but all public services have to make it their priority to give clear, concise instructions when an emergency or unscheduled event occurs. Clarity of the address system, designated spokespersons and a chain of command who gives proper orders is essential. Make this non-negotiable, you owe it to the people.

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