What is it with Southwest Airlines? For some reason, the carrier seems to get caught in a regular media firestorm by kicking off high-profile passengers from their airplanes. The latest incident, though, showcases exactly how to handle crisis communications, and also underscores a key tenet in crisis PR – you can never satisfy everyone all of the time.
In a nutshell, Southwest crew ejected an actress from a flight, and released a statement that hinted at rather aggressive displays of affection as the unacceptable behavior. As the statement stresses, “gender” didn’t play a role in the decision. Why highlight this? Because the actress claims her sexual orientation was the reason Southwest took her off the plane, and her Twitter account makes numerous claims of discrimination by the airline.
Every crisis PR incident has two sides to every story, and the effective tactic for the party “in” crisis is to get their side of the story out, otherwise you’ll have other people do that for you – and likely on not-so-favorable terms. And that’s exactly what Southwest has very smartly done both with their first statement and a subsequent statement pointing to loud profanity as the culprit – and citing additional employees and passengers as witnesses.
The other side of the story? The actress says she has audio and video of the incident. If the recordings are released, Southwest will of course have to explain anything that puts the airline in a negative light.
But here we are a week later, and the story has lost its run. In fact, the narrative favorable to Southwest has been reinforced by a Wall Street Journal story about how the airline takes flight attendant training very seriously. So, by (1) speaking out immediately, (2) explaining things with a simple and direct approach, and (3) reaffirming their commitment to customer satisfaction, both for all their passengers and the actress, Southwest is running a very good crisis management playbook. (And extra credit for having its corporate statements easy to find!)
Great case study here. With online and social complaints, things can often spiral out of control quickly. Great advice, as always.