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Qatar Airways QR023: The Hoax Bomb Threat Documented Live on Social Media

A passenger aboard Qatar Airways QR023 today made a bomb threat which caused the flight to return to Manchester airport with fighter jet escort.  The event was documented live on Social Media by another passenger onboard, Josh Hartley.  One complaint was that cabin crew had failed to notify passengers of what was happening, even as Hartley took pictures of the fighter jets and alerted the world of the status of his flight.  This event highlights the need for airlines to establish social media sensitivity training for cabin crew, as part of their Cabin Safety Training.

The reality is that, in today’s connected skies, the cabin is no longer an isolated environment.  Things that happen onboard don’t just stay onboard until the airline has a chance to respond by traditional means.

I’ve covered the Cabin Selfie Announcement dilemma, and passengers taking then sharing a number of videos of bad conduct in flight, including the recent incident on Sunwing Flight 772 rerouted by fighter jet escort back to Canada and Peel Police videoed by a passenger onboard, a video which immediately went viral.

There have been a number of safety-related incidents onboard which have made their way quickly to Social Media this year, but today’s incident was probably the most comprehensively covered by passengers.

And this last is the real problem.  Because of the nature of the threat, the crew could not reveal the true cause of events happening–to avoid panic onboard.  Yet, no communication at all is hardly standard procedure.  Should this have happened on a disconnected flight, in the disconnected world of olden days, there would have been no repercussions until after landing.  With a connected flight, crew needed training on just how to communicate and avoid the dissemination of partial and worrying information to the outside, with passengers completely in the dark.

And the above is why it matters for airlines–news media were already tweeting the pictures the passenger shared before the airline had a chance to react at all.

Passengers were then being updated by the media live about what was happening–which could itself have generated panic.

This also raises the question of whether connectivity services should be shut down in emergency situations.  Just to avoid panic from partial information breaking out.  I’m not proposing this, nor do I know whether it would be adequate, but it is a necessary topic of discussion for the Cabin Safety community.

For its part, Qatar had the following statement as published on the Independent which covered this story in depth.

The crew on-board had received a threat about a possible device on board and Qatar Airways immediately took all the necessary precautions to alert British authorities.

The crew is now fully assisting police at the airport with their inquiries. The safety and well-being of our passengers and crew is our top priority.

As this is a matter of a police investigation, we cannot comment further at this time.

The Manchester police services did a good job of responding to the Social Media buzz by providing timely updates which helped disseminate accurate information.

I would suggest that it is time for airlines to establish Social Media training which goes beyond standard marketing and customer service.  We are a uniquely headline-grabbing industry.  We need far more sophisticated Social Media strategies than other industries maintain and it must include cross-training at all levels of operations, not limited to the Social Media department alone.  It might be helpful to cross-train with the Social Media departments of emergency services, to get the best guidance on how these very sensitive situations would best be handled.


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