All apologies: In the face of multiple recent and well-publicized crises, airline bosses are learning that a simple apology can do much mitigate bad PR.
Sorry seems to the hardest word to say, but when it comes to apologies, more and more carriers are realizing the value of owning up and making amends.
The bosses of British Airways (BA), United Airlines and Malaysia Airlines, all of which have suffered their fair share of recent PR disasters, agree that communication is key when it comes to damage control.
Just this week, Willie Walsh, the head of International Airlines Group (IAG), owner of BA, admitted that the carrier’s public communications could have been better following its recent IT outage.
Oscar Munoz, United Airlines’ chief executive, spoke honestly about his carrier’s recent PR woes at the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) annual summit in Cancun, Mexico. Munoz says he stifled his initial instinct to apologize for the incident involving the forced removal of Dr. David Dao from one of the carrier’s flights due to “the force on me from many folks advising me”, the Guardian reports.
“In a crisis of that magnitude, evolving that quickly, you tend to learn and talk to too many people,” Munoz explained, adding that, “my initial response…would have been different”.
Also speaking was Peter Bellew, the chief executive of Malaysia Airlines. The instantaneous nature of social media, he said, has made the issuing of a prompt apology all the more important.
“I think you’ve got 15 minutes or less to say sorry. People were livestreaming on Facebook what was happening, because the aircraft was under 14,000 feet,” he said, referring to a recent bomb scare onboard a flight from Melbourne.
Bellew is also a firm believer that when things go wrong, staff should be on hand to receive passengers. He deployed this tactic when a Kuala Lumpur-bound flight from London was subjected to severe turbulence last summer. “You can’t sit in silence any more,” he added.
It seems that other carriers are taking these lessons to heart. Enrique Beltranena, the head of Volaris, a low-cost Mexican airline, said, “We cannot afford to be mechanized in terms of treating passengers. Passengers are people and need to be treated with respect.”