First it was the infamous “poo” flight with victims displaying their outrage about how they were treated on the Continental trans-Atlantic flight with the bathroom backed up and human waste flowing into the aisles. I was sympathetic to the airline then, talking about how the media were falling all over themselves to get the victims on camera to talk about how horrible this was.
Last night on the local tv news show, another story involving Continental, another victim making accusations certain to generate outrage among the public and potential flyers, and another black eye for Continental. Now, I imagine most of us have been on flights with out of control children and completely out of touch parents and we wish a flight attendant or flight crew would care a little more for the comfort of the rest of the passengers and take some action. It never happens. But in this case, if you listen to the mother, the child only said three words and the mother and baby were booted before the plane took off. I find that hard to believe, but there she is, a nice looking young mother with a beautiful child making accusations that are certain to diminish years of brand building by this company. And no response by the airline other than “we are investigating the incident.”
That’s what gets me about this kind of news coverage and this kind of company response. I want to cheer for the airline because the media loves this kind of gotcha story, but I get frustrated when the PR departments and senior leadership do so little to protect themselves against this kind of damaging onslaught. Much better was American Airlines response when they were accused of racial profiling in the months after 9/11 when a Secret Service agent was kicked off a flight. In that case, they wasted little time in explaining that he was carrying a gun, would not produce identification, was angry and abusive. The issue immediately went away because in such circumstances, who could blame a crew for taking protective action.
Eric Dezenhall in his new book “Damage Control” (I still have to read it) takes the position that typical crisis response is far too namby pamby. I think he is right about this. More important, it is far too slow. Of course, there is no mention of the news story on the Continental website–but where are they going to tell their side of the story. I want badly to hear that this woman has significantly mis-communicated about the circumstances. I want to hear another side. But nothing. So, despite my pro-company/anti-gotcha journalism position, Continental fails. Guilty as charged. I’ll think twice about booking a flight on that airline when another one will get me where I want to go.