#CommsCon19 Operation Matterhorn: Responding to a crisis.

April 8, 2021

At the recent CommsCon event I heard from comms experts from a variety of industries, providing their advice on how to respond to a crisis. One of the speaking sessions that I found extremely interesting was by Richard Stephenson, Communications Director and Will Nathan, Head of External Communications at the Civil Aviation Authority. They spoke primarily about ‘Operation Matterhorn’ – which includes the demise of Monarch in 2017 and Thomas Cook in 2019.

The CAA is responsible for whole integrity of the aviation industry, meaning Richard and Will play crucial roles in any crisis, particularly of this scale and size. 

They discussed their timeline, process, communication plan as well as how they reflected and learned from each crisis.


Initially reflecting on the Monarch crisis, Will discussed how they created a website aimed at being ‘the single source of truth’ and was set up to be hugely resilient and filled with accurate policy information.

Throughout the process they discovered just how powerful social media can be and subsequently used it in a creative manner to reach audiences in a way that hadn’t be done before. Their three key takeaways were:

Thomas Cook

Richard and Will shared the following statistics (based on a two-week period):

150,000 people, 350,000 future bookings, 3,400 hotels, 9,000 employees and 18 countries

‘When you get to T-minus 0, you’ve got to be ready to go’ Richard said the first few hours are the most crucial when entering a crisis of this scale and magnitude. Within minutes of the operation being launched, they had broadcast studios set up all around the world in order to take control of the narrative. 

The team used multiple channels and consistent messaging to reach everyone they possibly could in order to drive traffic to their central website, which they stood by as being their strongest and most resilient source of information. 

Throughout the presentation, it became apparent that the media narrative was incredibly important, and control over this even more so, as well as the enormous stakeholder map the team needed to engage with over the critical days.

Here are four lessons they learnt which will help prepare them for future crisis:

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