Skip to main content


Popular terms:

05 October 2015 | Case study

Storm Disruption Case Study: The Polar Vortex

Snow storms, hurricanes and typhoons - somewhere in the world, severe weather is wreaking havoc, causing long delays to stranded passengers and costly cancellations to travel companies. In this case study, we look at how one US-based airline kept its passengers and staff calm, connected and well informed during the 2014 Polar Vortex.


In January 2014 (and to a lesser extent December 2013), the US experienced its coldest temperatures in 20 years and up to 2ft (60cm) of snow in a matter of days – in what was termed ‘The Polar Vortex’.  Thousands of flights were grounded - 3,700 on one day alone – leaving travellers stranded, stressed and miserable. The need for passengers to be kept informed of flight delays, cancellations and alternative flight options could not have been bigger.   

One US-based customer used the 15below notifications platform to keep staff, passengers and ‘subscribers’ connected and in control, in an effort to deliver a good customer experience during what were extremely challenging circumstances.

Some key facts about the event:

11% flights in USA cancelled over 8-day period (over 27,700 flights)

51% of those flights that did take off arrived late.

$75-100m loss in airline revenues


1. To retain their level of customer service throughout the disruption, and strengthen customer loyalty in their handling of the event - taking into account many call centre staff were themselves stranded and unable to come into work.

2. To minimise the operational, financial – and brand - impact of the event.

3. To re-accommodate passengers as quickly as possible and get them to their final destination.


The customer used the 15below platform throughout the disruption to:

1. Keep travellers, staff and subscribers (friends, family and other interested parties) informed and in control with real-time, authoritative and personalised updates.  

2. Maximise reach and effectiveness of the communications (both information updates and operational notifications), by delivering updates via four different channels according to what contact details existed on the PNR.

3. The system had to handle a huge spike in volume during the peak of the storms.  It also worked to notify customers of alternative flights they had been booked onto, significantly reducing the number of inbound calls and on-ground staff support needed.

Over the course of just one 24-hour period, this US-based customer was able to send 225,000 targeted notifications to their customers – 75,000 of which advising them of alternative flights they had been booked onto with no further need to contact the airline.  This helped to both smooth operations within the stretched call centre and airports, and also importantly reduces stress for travellers and staff alike.

Number and Type of Notifications Sent Over 13 days

Top Tips for Managing Unplanned (IROPS) Disruption

15below have been helping airlines manage unplanned disruption since 2002.  These are 3 simple rules we advocate and from which our company foundations lie:


People understand things can go wrong. They don’t understand why they’re not kept informed of what’s going on.  Make sure you have the technology to keep your customers informed of delays, cancellations and alternative flights.  Reducing confusion at a time of high stress can minimise frustration and protect your brand from angry tweets.


When there are literally hundreds of thousands of passengers to contact, you need a system which has the capacity to quickly and easily deliver the high volume traffic you need.  


Prevent call centre throttling, and get the information your customers need, when they need it.  Providing details of alternative flights travellers have been booked onto means they have no need to queue, or spend (sometimes) hours holding on the phone.  Most importantly, it minimises the feeling of being out of control at a time of high stress.