Last month, I found myself stuck in an airport three out of four weekends. Most if not all of my flights were delayed for one reason or another – runway construction, late arrivals, tired flight crews, overbooked seats and crowded tarmacs to name a few. To make matters worse, one of my checked bags was found slashed open when I hauled it off of the baggage claim conveyer belt after traveling abroad.
Despite the circumstances, all passengers managed to keep their cool, including myself. After all, life happens. And, one airline immediately worked to ratify the less than desirable service by apologizing in person and gifting passengers a $250 flight credit (thanks Jet Blue!). I couldn’t help but wonder why and how airlines continue to fuel public relations nightmares. Where are they going wrong?
Here is a deeper look at this year’s top airline scandals.
Issue an Apology
In April, United Airlines was blasted for how the company and CEO handled an incident in which security forcefully dragged a Kentucky physician off of one of its aircrafts. Cell phone video captured the incident where the doctor was shown bloodied, kicking and screaming and eyewitnesses were visibly upset. The incident ignited a national discussion about how airlines treat their passengers.
In response, the airline initially showed no remorse. Rather, the CEO made a statement that said the flight crew was simply following protocol that allows crew members to request to remove passengers when flights are overbooked if no one volunteers to deplane or switch flights on their own. The airline did not apologize or show genuine empathy for the treatment of the doctor, his injuries or the unwanted publicity he later received. Nor, did the airline immediately compensate the doctor and passengers for the horrific incident and delayed departure.
One week later, the CEO of the company issued a public apology and vowed to make the situation right. However, the damage was done. The public was in an uproar. As reported by CNN Money, hashtags, including #NewUnitedAirlineMottos, were circulating social media coupled with new suggested taglines for the company, such as “not enough seating, prepare for a beating.”
Be Clear with Customer Policies Upfront
Just two weeks after the United Airlines scandal, American Airlines was questioned for its policy for passengers traveling with children. Cell phone video captured a female flight attendant yelling and pointing at an Argentinian mother who was asking to use her stroller to board the plane with her two children. However, the footage captured the escalated incident, which included the passenger crying, the flight attendant screaming and a fellow male passenger and the pilot trying to defuse the situation.
Luckily, American Airlines took immediate action to apologize and upgrade the woman to first class. As reported by CNN.com, the company began an investigation into the incident and suspended the flight attendant. American Airlines then issued a statement to clarify that the incident was isolated and doesn’t reflect the values of the company or its customer care. However, the airline spokesperson reiterated that it is the airline’s policy for passengers traveling with children to check their strollers at the gate.
Keep Politics Under Wraps
In May, Spirit Airlines was under scrutiny for cancelling multiple flights in Fort Lauderdale which resulted in physical fights between airline staff members and passengers in the terminal. Once again, cell phone video captured the incident, during which police were called to break up the scene. Customers claimed they were not being helped as multiple flights were cancelled without explanation. And, airline staff members said they were not properly prepared for the backlash they received at ticket counters.
Days later, it was revealed that more than 300 Spirit Airlines flights had been cancelled that week. In a statement to The Washington Post, the airline placed blame on its pilots for unlawfully cancelling flights and causing chaos. Ultimately, there was a labor dispute. Spirit Airlines proceeded to file a lawsuit against the Airline Pilots Association International. Although the airline apologized to customers, the company already has a reputation for poor service. Customer rants on social media continued.
In sum, the answer to why and how airlines continue to find themselves surrounded by controversy comes down to honest communication and accountability. Incidents happen. And, in this day in age anything and everything is captured by personal electronic device. It’s how the airlines handle each incident in terms of timing and messaging that gets them into or out of trouble.