Airline trade group’s message right on target

In its bid to reverse air traffic controllers’ furloughs, Airlines for America focused on the inconvenience to passengers and other customers, with a nod to the industry’s concerns.

As air traffic gets back to the normal number of delays this week, and as the sequester-forced air traffic controller furloughs become a fading memory, a great deal of credit goes to the trade group Airlines for America.

Sure, there has been a lot of talk about Congress members’ being inconvenienced—and that probably played a part in the legislators’ lightning-fast decision to end the furloughs—but the communication strategy of the organization and its spokesperson, Jean Medina, was effective and focused.

Medina was all over focusing on ending the furloughs in the interests of not only the airlines but, more important, the traveling public.

She consistently brought the argument back to how it affected airline passengers. Though honest in including the benefits to airlines, she managed to put the public first in pushing for an end to the furloughs.

This is impressive, as most trade groups tend to put their members first and the people their members serve second.

Not this time for Airlines for America.

On Friday, April 19, two days prior to the furloughs beginning, Medina said:

“We find ourselves with little choice but to actively review all of our legal options to protect our passengers and shippers from being needlessly impacted.”

Politico quoted Medina on April 23 after the sequester-related furloughs took effect.

The airline industry was just trying to stay out of the crossfire.

“We are not taking sides,” she said. “We are on the side of our customers, trying to prevent them from being impacted by needless cuts.”

She remained consistent following the vote to end the furloughs, appearing on Fox News Business. When asked by Stuart Varney whether the delays were behind us as of April 26 (knowing a bill was passed and would be signed), Medina stayed true to form.

“We certainly hope so [delays ending]. We think this action—the customers are the ones who win.”

Talking about the pressure the organization exerted on Congress and the president, Varney said to Medina, “I think you won.” She smartly responded, “Again, I would say the customers win… [It was] hugely frustrating for customers.”

A clear lesson

Too many trade organizations communicate in a way that shows them to be protecting their members’ interests. Most often, the interests of members and those that the organizations serve are aligned.

Focusing on who ultimately benefits is smart: The trade association no longer appears selfish, and customers may feel more important.

Medina also showed that being consistent helps the story. Whether in political publications, on NBC Nightly News, or in the business media, she stayed with her customer focus. That means a lot of the flying public will be right behind Airlines for America, supporting its efforts.

Tripp Frohlichstein is the founder of MediaMasters. His firm specializes in media and presentation coaching, along with message development and message mapping. Contact him at or email

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Topics: PR

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