Say Something, American!

The "Helen the flight attendant flips out over OJ" story has been hanging around the interwebs for several days now. (If you haven't heard the story, Matthew has a nice post on it.)

As an AA frequent flier and fanboy, I don't have any particularly enlightening comments on the incident itself, except to say that it contrasts pretty starkly from my experiences on AA. More often than not, I'm fairly impressed with the level of service and professionalism on my airline of choice.

I am, however, a little frustrated by AA's handling of the incident. Maybe I should say "lack of handling." Since the story broke a few days ago (and then showed that it has some legs, internetally speaking), AA has basically been silent, short of a statement released today in which they said:

"We are also talking with all crew members from that flight, not just the flight attendant in question, plus others passengers who were nearby... When the investigation is complete, we will take any appropriate action as necessary. We are not quite there yet."

By not saying much, American is blowing an major PR opportunity. They could say something like, "Reports of this incident are massively inconsistent with the high level of service that customers can expect to receive when they fly American Airlines. As soon as we have finished our investigation, we look forward to making sure we appropriately apologize to the passengers who were affected. In the meantime, we've taken the step to send them all certificates good for a complimentary upgrade on a future flight."

Or they could have offered the passenger in question a year's supply of free orange juice. What would that have cost? A few hundred bucks? Isn't that worth all the good publicity?

Instead, AA is showing that they play by old media rules. In the old media world, companies could usually (nine times out of ten, maybe) make a bad story like this one "go away" by ignoring it. In the new media world, stories like this spark hundreds (maybe thousands?) of blog posts, message board threads, YouTube videos, and snarky songs. Stories like this get going, and they don't peter out quite so quickly. (And by the time they do peter out, they've been read and discussed by millions.) American had an opportunity to take control of this situation, and they're blowing it. They're blowing it so much that their competitors are beating them to the punch. (To make it worse, the competitor in question isn't one of the usually snarky ones like Richard Branson. It's Delta, for chrissakes!)

Image what would have happened had United just spent a couple grand to send the guy a fancy new guitar and a sincere apology note... It would have looked good for United, right?

Update: Turns out I'm not the only one to make this point.


Hunter December 15, 2009 at 04:46 pm

Using the term "fanboy" eliminates your right to complain about anything.
And every once and a while, Delta falls into a correct move. In this case, probably because the guy who is offering Gold status used to work at American, is getting sued by American, and is generally pissed at American.