Southwest Airlines & Lessons In Social Media Crisis Communications

Media relations and corporate communications are a 24/7/365 cycle. No one knows when an incident will occur, but when one does occur companies must be ready to react, especially an airline.


On the 6th of July 2013 Asiana Flight 214 landed short at San Francisco International Airport, breaking the tail off of the Boeing 777-28E/ER resulting in initially two deaths (ultimately three deaths), a flaming aircraft and worldwide headlines. Following the crash of Asiana Flight 214 the airline went silent for six hours, when they sent a single tweet from @AsianaAirlinesThank you for your concern and support at this time. We are currently investigating and will update the news as soon as possible. #SFO


Who exactly Asiana appears to be starting a conversation with is unclear and what exactly they were investigating is equally unclear. There was no mistaking that their aircraft had hit the deck, split in two, spun around and started on fire.


Two hours after Asiana’s awkwardly worded single tweet, which failed to use the primary hashtags associated with the accident, the airline finally issued a press release.


Asiana failed to immediately provide information or at least start bring their voice into the conversation.  The airline … in short … failed to become part of the conversation, much less control the conversation. Ultimately Asiana’s lack of communications let stories run wild, allowed misinformation to permeate the media and failed to protect the brand.


Fast forward to tonight, the 22nd of July, and once again Southwest Airlines’ Emerging Media and Media Relations team shows why they are unsurpassed in their proactive approach to crisis communications.


This evening around 5:45pm EST Southwest Airlines Flight 345, a Boeing 737-7H4, landed at New York’s LaGuardia Airport from Nashville International Airport, when its nose gear collapsed on touch down.  The aircraft had no fire, the aircraft remained fully intact, Flight 345 reported a total of 10 minor injuries, only 8 of which required transport to the hospital.


What makes Southwest Airlines outstanding is that the airline was already addressing the Flight 345 incident on Twitter by 6:17p EST and had issued a short media advisory by 6:20pm EST.   Since the initial social media engagement roughly 30 minutes after the incident and the media advisory release the airline has been consistent in updating the public and media.


Southwest’s performance tonight is not the first, second or third time the airline had begun integrating themselves into the conversation as soon as an incident begins and they masterfully work to control the flow of the conversation in multiple channels.   By controlling the conversation Southwest Airlines not only puts itself in front of a story, no matter what that story is, but it also furthers its brand recognition and strengthens the brand image that the company is open, honest and deserves your loyalty.


In an ideal world Southwest Airlines should open a consulting firm with a single mission … the mission of bringing its emerging media and media relations culture and tactics to other airlines, airlines such as Asiana.


Regardless of your feelings for Southwest Airlines, if you have one, the airline is second to none in its mastery of its public communications. Many airlines come close, a few airlines are their equal, but none surpass them and their consistency.


Happy Flying!



One Comment

  1. I think this has to deal with culture. I’m pretty sure every Asian airline (including SQ) won’t be on the same level as US airlines when it comes to social media and media relations.

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