It wasn’t all that unusual to see tweets that looked like this one over the weekend, in reaction the crash of an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 at San Francisco’s airport:
And that was before Sunday night’s news that another plane, a small air taxi at a tiny Alaska airport, went up in flames, killing 10 people
For its part, Asiana issued a handful of press releases
with details of injuries, sympathies to the injured and killed (two people were confirmed dead), and assurances that it was cooperating with investigations into the incident to determine its cause. The airline told reporters that the pilot of the plane was still training on the Boeing 777 model
Rediske Air, the company operating the plane in Alaska, declined to comment to the Associated Press.
Other airlines, which had no direct involvement in either crash but whose ticket sales could be adversely affected by worries about air travel in general, did little to address the issue. American Airlines tweeted a link to an updated ticketing policy
at San Francisco’s airport. US Airways posted a message to Facebook
stating change fees would be waived Sunday and Monday.
Southwest Airlines probably came closest to remarking on the Asiana crash:
Even that response stops short of assuring passengers—of any airline—that they can feel safe getting on a plane. According to Robert Holland of Holland Communication Solutions, airlines would simply draw attention to themselves if they proactively raised the safety issue.
“Even if my airline had a stellar safety record, even then it would appear to be gloating in the face of other airlines' problems,” he says. “I would recommend commenting publicly if asked, however.
[RELATED: Hear how top companies adapted to the digital PR industry changes at this August event.]
Otherwise it would raise questions or suspicions about what we're trying to hide about our own record. It's important for other airlines to be forthcoming with information if it's requested, but there's nothing to be gained, and perhaps something to be lost, by proactively commenting.”
Tripp Frohlichstein of MediaMasters Training says airlines should probably just let the media do the work for them. Reports such as this one from Bay Area News Group
are getting the message out that, prior to Saturday’s crash, no one had ever died in an incident involving a Boeing 777.
Frohlichstein hedged on whether airlines should tweet links to those articles or post them to Facebook.
“On the plus side, it provides a ‘third party’ resource to show people flying is essentially safe,” he says. “On the downside, those stories will remind people of the [crash].”
Jonathan Bernstein of Bernstein Crisis Management says airlines should be training staffers to address customer concerns about the crash in a compassionate, reassuring way.
“It's the type of message that's much better delivered person to person,” he says.
Another thing that airlines ought to do is to evaluate how well prepared their own communications and PR teams would have been in the event one of their planes had crashed on that runway in San Francisco, says Jonathan Hemus of Insignia Communications.
“No one wants a crisis to befall a competitor, but neither should they ignore the learning opportunity it provides,” he says.