On August 19, 2010, an alleged bomb-threat was received in San Francisco, targeting American Airlines Flight 24. The full flight, bound for New York’s JFK International Airport, was halted shortly before takeoff, grounded immediately and parked in a remote section of the airport for more than two hours. From within the plane the crew initially reported that the atmosphere was generally calm as passengers slowly received information about the cause of the delay. As the situation progressed, rumors began circulating among passengers connected to the Internet or receiving information from their smartphones about a hijacking or bomb threat. Soon thereafter, passengers began tweeting from aboard the aircraft. Tweets included handles of major news networks like CNN and FOX News. At this point, the American Airlines / Weber Shandwick social media team launched its proactive crisis response plan.
American Airlines’ social media team, comprising support from Weber Shandwick, immediately drafted response tweets when two passengers began tweeting activities as they occurred directly inside the plane, sometimes containing pictures. Social Media and online news sites began reporting that AA24 was a possible bomb-threat / hijacking.
Social Media Crisis Objectives
Maintain control of information through immediate updates to passengers and customers
Address and correct false rumors and erroneous information
Reassure passengers/family members
Direct proactive updates to media for their reporting
Customers and the general public interested in following the story
Traditional News Media (consumer and business travel, general aviation)
Internal Audiences
American Airlines employees in San Francisco and around the system
Social Media Audiences
Americans more than 80,000 Facebook followers
Travel and airline industry bloggers reacting to (and writing about) the event in real-time
In connection with Weber Shandwick, American Airlines has developed a comprehensive monitoring and response action plan for handling varying levels of crises.
Additionally, American always strives to improve and perfect existing crisis response processes. Since April 2009, social media has joined this framework so as to integrate and execute responses to traditional and social audiences.
Engaged directly with the passengers aboard the plane via Twitter as they reported about inside conditions and passenger sentiment
Replied individually to customers responding to American, news outlets or the passengers tweeting
Maintained constant contact with CNN, FOX News and MSNBC as American received updates from San Francisco crews
Reached out to relevant travel/airline industry blogs and discussions forums (i.e. FlyerTalk) that commented on the flight, reporting facts
Passengers/Twitter users Campbell McKellar and Jay Sears communicated directly with American Airlines and CNN’s Rick Sanchez for live updates and information. The team proactively tweeted directly to McKellar, Sears and CNN.
Customers, airline bloggers and aviation enthusiasts reacted positively and began retweeting American’s updates, helping to spread the message to more than 100,000+ followers in two hours. More than 574 tweets were reported, totaling a reach of more than 1,500,000 million people. CLIENT: American Airlines CAMPAIGN TITLE: Bomb Threat Response: American Airlines Tweets with Passengers Aboard Flight 24 AGENCY: Weber Shandwick CATEGORY: Crisis Management (#13) BUDGET: $10,000 (CONFIDENTIAL – Only for judging and not for external use)

For American, message tone was the focus, aiming to help and support the passengers during and after the situation. AA’s initial response tweet, “Hang in there, the authorities are taking care of things” was the most heavily re-tweeted message, even being picked up by CNN, USA World Report and hundreds of other sites/Twitter channels.
CNN’s show, Rick’s List, interviewed Campbell McKellar the next day, and in the interview referenced American and its use of Twitter.
574 tweets throughout the two-hour incident
1,500,000 potential impressions through Twitter
Live mention by CNN’s Rick Sanchez about American’s efforts to reassure passengers and update the public
Positive social and traditional media coverage on how American utilized used social media in a crisis situation:
o Rick’s List Blog (CNN) http://ricksanchez.blogs.cnn.com/2010/08/20/woman-on-threatened-flight-tweeted-cnn-shares-story-in-140/
o Follow the AA24 Twitter Timeline (Google) http://bit.ly/9DrkWE
o Cell Phone Video of CNN Social Coverage (Twitter) VIDEO: http://pegshot.com/p/4c1maab60/ Tweet from @HolaPhil http://bit.ly/9aHdAO
o American Airlines Rocks on Twitter During the AA24 Security Threat, While Passengers Tweet from the Plane (Airline
News Resource) http://bit.ly/a3dpvj
o David Pogue’s Tweet to 1.3M Followers (NY Times) Tweet: http://Twitter.com/Pogue/statuses/22009237148
o Jetliner grounded in San Francisco after threat (AP) Yahoo AP: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100819/ap_on_re_us/us_airplane_phone_threat
o 78,000 sites covered AP article: http://bit.ly/9xSZ8E AP Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWytwfVA5Us