New PR target: airlines

It seems you can’t turn on your computer without the latest cell video of someone being abused by an airline.  Passengers being dragged off flights to make room for airline employees, families thrown off because the child’s name doesn’t match the ticket, and passengers simply frustrated at being treated with disdain by flight attendants and pilots.

The strange thing is the airlines are almost always right: legally.  They do what their manual tells them they must do or be fired.  And they blame the FAA as the culprit. These flight mishaps, that end up on CNN and all over social media, are not because the airline is doing something wrong.  It is the way they handle the situation.  Again, as in most crisis communications scenarios, it is not the act, it is the coverup.  It is not asking someone to leave a plane, it is how it is done.

When incidents hit the media, and result in public outrage, the airlines cave in.  The CEO goes on Good Morning America to issue an apology and the case usually ends up with the passenger much richer.

What is missing from these crisis scenarios is some common sense.  If flight attendants and pilots worked on alleviating an escalating situation rather than bulldozing their way to follow the manual, nobody would be filming the situation and nobody would think that airlines have become the most non-customer relations sensitive business in the world.  Right now, people would but airlines at the bottom of the list for customer service and in many cases rightfully so.

Issuing apologies and paying passengers millions of dollars doesn’t solve the PR problem.  The airline admits guilt and stupidity and is out a lot of money.  The answer is to stop a PR crisis before it begins.  Give flight attendants and pilots authority to solve problems on the ground before they escalate.  Don’t call the police whose job is to do whatever it takes to get a passenger off the plane.

And have better staff training in how to deal with passengers who have done nothing wrong other than buy a plane ticket.