Southwest’s Sub-Par Crisis Management

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    Bad communication spoils airline’s response

    Southwest Airlines is in trouble following an incident that caused its entire fleet of Boeing 737s to be grounded for inspection, canceling hundreds and delaying literally thousands of flights. Compounding the issue is the terrible crisis management from Southwest, which has sparked negative commentaries like this one, from a blog post by Joe Brancatelli, across the Web:

    Remember Saturday when Southwest was mum on both its website and Twitter feed about its troubled operations? Late Sunday, it added insult to injury by finally posting a statement on its website. Southwest’s verbiage is brazen, self-serving baloney. (See it here.) Southwest claims it “is experiencing relatively few flight delays and cancellations.”

    Needless to say, 300 cancellations represent about 10 percent of Southwest’s normal daily schedule. A 10 percent cancellation rate is not “relatively few.” It’s a catastrophe, since airlines rarely cancel more than 1 or 2 percent of their flights each day. And a thousand delays are not “relatively few,” either. That’s a third of the airline’s schedule.

    Refusing to own up to obvious problems is a sure-fire way to worsen any crisis. There’s just no sense in it, the public can already see, and if they can’t then the media will happily ensure they do. Southwest is going to permanently lose customers as a result of not only the incident, but also its inept handling afterwards.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. , an international crisis management consultancy, and author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training.]