Since the disappearance of flight MH370 on the 8 March, the media has had myself and the rest of the world gripped. With the technological society that we live in today and the vast amount of tools available to us, how exactly can a modern day flight carrying 227 passengers just vanish? It’s taken over two weeks of hard work and countless theories to finally get a logical answer to the question on everybody’s minds.
Malaysia Airlines have without a doubt faced an upwards battle with regards to PR and crisis management, with the world ready to scrutinize their every move. With huge pressure from the press as well as the hunt for the missing plane, did Malaysia Airlines handle their PR during this crisis appropriately?
Publications like the Telegraph have been quick to slam the way in which the situation has been handled. One of the main arguments being that Malaysian Government Officials as well as the airline itself are inexperienced with regards to PR internationally. Whether this is the case or not, there are a number of issues that could have been avoided.
I’ve been told that the first 24-48 hours of any crisis is the most crucial time to act. Yet for Malaysia Airlines, their response in the first few days was considered a mess. There was inconsistencies with information given and the response announcing the disappearance was delayed by five hours. In my opinion, they should’ve been faster and addressed the situation as soon as they knew. in 2008 Air NZ faced a crisis when one of its air crafts had crashed, they obtained the information that the plane had crashed at 7am and delivered a press conference at 8am. A crisis management strategy needs to be honest, open and quick something which the addressing of the disappearance of flight MH370 lacked.
Since the announcement yesterday by the Malaysian Prime Minister in a press conference that new data confirms the flight ended in the South Indian Ocean, relatives of the victims of the flight have finally been given some sort of answer. However, he also confirmed that the relatives were also told this via text message.
Was this a good idea? This whole situation affects many different lives and the need for sensitivity is extremely important. Whilst I understand that SMS messaging is a medium that allows quick exchange of information and that this is important in a crisis, the need to empathise and sympathise with the human emotions that are present is also just as important. Again, the PR was not handled greatly by Malaysia Airlines and is supported by the backlash featured on social media channels. Recent reports from the BBC have now surfaced stating that relatives have protested to this information and have issued a statement claiming that Malaysian Officials have tried to “distort the truth” - another issue that needs to be addressed carefully.
Now, did they handle anything right? Malaysia Airlines have been praised for their use of social media – removing any promotional activity prior to the disappearance, and using the different platforms to regularly update users on any news and information surrounding the crisis. The airline also activated a ‘dormant’ dark site used for updates to highlight that the situation is taken seriously. They also recognised the importance of supporting the victims families, providing financial support, accommodating and round-the-clock caregivers to provide the support needed.
Unfortunately, due to the severity of the crisis and the puzzlement of everyone around the world as to how exactly a plane can go missing – the negative impact of the poorly handled PR at different stages of the situation is the one that prominently recognised. Although i’m sure airlines could never actually prepare for the disappearance of a plane with no idea as to what happened with it, certain guidelines should always be implemented, especially with an airline crisis. In my opinion, Malaysia Airlines will have to fight hard to salvage their reputation.
There are still questions left unanswered, but what is clear to me is that whilst we perceive public transport and transnational transport to be so secure and technologically ‘safe’, we still rely on other human beings to maintain full stable and safe operations. Our lives are ultimately always in the hands of other people.
There is no doubt that this crisis will make everyone question the communication devices featured during flight and the flaws in the systems, with the airline industry hopefully delving into more secure aircraft monitoring in the hope that nothing like this ever happens again.
My thoughts are with the victims and families of flight MH370.