Air Souls


Why are airlines so bad at public relations?

British Airways is the latest airline to suffer a PR disaster. The CEO said too little too late.

Dressed in a high-vis jacket, speaking from BA’s operations centre near Heathrow, Alex Cruz tried to repair the damage done to the brand after the global IT crash that grounded flights and left thousands of passengers stranded at the start of one of the busiest weekends for travel in the UK.

The British Airways’ chief executive said he is “profusely” sorry, but his apology didn’t work. Passengers described chaotic scenes at Gatwick and Heathrow airports at the weekend, with a lot of people hitting out at the airline for a lack of information and a lack of senior management on the ground.

This customer relations disaster comes at a difficult time for BA, which has faced criticism for cutting costs and lowering the quality of its service. Last year, it announced it would stop free food and drinks for economy passengers on short-haul flights in Europe.

BA says it is still investigating what caused the power supply problem — and what happened with its back-up system. However, it said a move last year to outsource several hundred IT jobs to specialists supplied by India’s Tata Consultancy Services was not to blame.

We saw a similar PR disaster with United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz last month. He didn’t apologise quickly enough or effectively enough after a man was physically dragged off one of their planes. He didn’t change his tune until United’s stock price plummeted.

It’s amazing that of all businesses, an AIRLINE would be so bad at PR. A very bad day in the airline industry isn’t one where someone gets dragged off a plane or when 75,000 people miss their flights. A really bad day is when a plane disappears off a radar screen and doesn’t come back. The people in charge of airlines should be people with the very best PR skills possible.

Being the CEO of an airline is a lot like being the pilot of one of their planes. Most of the time, the systems run themselves, you don’t have much to do. You’re there because when things do go wrong, you’re the one who knows EXACTLY what to do. You have to get it right first time because you don’t get a second chance!

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