Real-Time Teachable Moment From American Airlines

For those of you who are or aspire to be better crisis communicators, there’s a situation unfolding at American Airlines that will bear following. According to news reports that are effectively everywhere, a woman on an American Airlines flight last Friday died after being denied oxygen – twice – and discovering that two oxygen tanks on board – plus the defibrillator – were malfunctioning.

Here are some initial discussion points:

Is the story accurate? As you’ll see, much of the coverage is actually pick up of a single AP story and while there’s no immediate reason to discount the accuracy of the story, it’s worth noting that the reporting depends on information provided by the deceased’s brother and cousin.

Was AP justified in writing up the story the way it did, based on the accounts of two people who are anything but objective observers?

How should American be responding even while it’s investigating this situation? American’s position in these stories is almost non-existent (a longer statement is referred to in a package done by WABC).

Should the airline be more visible in the story and – if so – how?

What’s coming next? I think it’s safe to assume that newsrooms all over the country (the world) are trying to figure out how to advance this story – interviews with the family, tracking down other passengers on the plane, investigating American’s inspect procedures, etc. You can expect lawsuits to be filed shortly as well.

How does American get back in front of this issue (assuming you think they should and it’s possible)?

What should other airlines be doing, if anything, on this story. How about responding to media inquiries wanting to know their rules regarding medical emergencies on board?

Who should be speaking for the airline? Should there be a statement only (that seems to be American’s current approach) or should spokespeople be available? On camera?

Those are just the starting points. As Keanu Reeves said in Speed:

“Pop quiz…”

– Austin government loans kind

2 thoughts on “Real-Time Teachable Moment From American Airlines

  1. jmaustin says:

    This just in…American has released a statement:

    “FOR RELEASE: Monday, Feb. 25, 2008

    “FORT WORTH, Texas – American Airlines is very saddened over the death of passenger Carine Desir on Flight 896 from Haiti to New York’s JFK Airport last Friday and extends its deepest sympathy to the grieving family.

    “We are investigating this incident, as we do with all serious medical situations on board our aircraft, but American Airlines can say oxygen was administered and the Automatic External Defibrillator was applied.

    “Among the preflight duties of our highly trained Flight Attendants is a check of all emergency equipment on the aircraft. This includes checking the oxygen bottles – there were 12 in this particular aircraft. We stand behind the actions and training of our crew and the functionality of the onboard medical equipment. We are also grateful to medical volunteers on this flight who came to the aid of a fellow traveler during flight.”

  2. Dennis Lang says:

    Mr. Austin–Tantalizing brain-bender especially following last weeks TSRC discussion of authenticity in public relations. A take from a p/r illiterate: American must deal forthrightly regardless of the source and its credibility . The company has to be prepared to assume responsibility for anything adverse even if not at fault. Hiding or attempting to deflect responsibilty will make it worse. A single spokesperson is required to avoid contradiction–maybe an outsider who can provide objectivity that insiders and legal lack. Initiate media contact and keep them regularly informed on the investigation. Would you call this a potential crisis in public perception? Is it a cliche that perception is reality? American should be consumately proactive. in this case. Hey, hoping the Blogospheroids out there jump in on this one. Cool question–food for conjecture–on a breaking story.

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