The company’s flight MH370 which was to fly to Beijing as scheduled on the eighth of March 2014 went missing while on route. The plane had its systems switched off, and its last location as seen by the radar was 120 miles of the east coast of Malaysia (De Castella, 2014). The disappearance of the plane together with the flight crew and the 239 passengers on board is still a mystery. Adding to the missing plane, the problems of the airline doubled when another of its planes was shot down by a missile made in Russia while on route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, flight MH17. Flight MH17 had on board 283 passengers when it was struck down by the missile. The disappearance of the MH370 plane and the striking down of MH17 was a crisis that according to public relations experts was not well managed (Davidson & Yuhas, 2014).
The airline could have done damage control in a well-organized manner to avert the crisis that spread widely. The number one rule in public relations is to tell it as it is, let the public know the truth. The airline instead of letting the public know the truth about the disappearance of the plane headed to Beijing, they blamed terror activities instead of looking at all the options available on the table in the actual event that could have transpired. Apart from blaming the terrorists for the disappearance of the plane, the management also stated that they did not believe that there was any survivor of the crash.
Another key factor in public relations is to have a single figurehead tasked with delivering information to the masses. The search for the missing MH370 plane involved a combination of more than 24 countries. The synchronization between these countries was wanting (Boin et al. 2010).
Following the two incidences, the disappearance of the MH370 plane and the shooting down of the MH17 plane, the airline issued several press releases on the company website. The statements of the airline did not resonate well with the families who had lost loved ones. The company was also involved in political campaigns which were controversial. For instance, the airline had a competition known as the “Ultimate Bucket List” which was aimed at the contestants winning free air tickets. Bucket list refers to what an individual would like to do before he/she dies. The media were very quick in criticizing this campaign leading to the replacement of the description to be “Ultimate to-do-list” (Phares et al. 2015).
The airline did not take into consideration the feelings of others through their campaigns following the incidences. The airline was under fire not only from the poor decision making and lack of timely, but also accurate information from the financial point of view.
Throughout the period of the incidences, those who lost their family members wanted answers they were not able to find. The airline set up a hotline number where family members were able to call, and the airline set up its website whereby they gave regular updates to the family members. The hotline number and the website idea was good, but the text message the company sent the family members was not a good idea. The airline did not make the passengers top of their priority list, but they focused on the company image.
The tactics employed by Malaysia Airlines to communicate with family members was destitute. At the Beijing airport where the missing plane MH370 was expected, the flight board at the airport still read the projected arrival time of the missing plane. The airport should have taken the flight out of the flight board once the airline established that it was missing and designate an area for receiving the grieving family members. Reports indicate that no senior manager was present to receive the family members at the Beijing airport. Instead, the airline sent caregivers and Chinese officials who consoled the bereaved (Thomas, 2015). The airline chief executive officer gave a single press conference, and the company's spokesperson did other subsequent press conferences.
The airline handled the disappearance of flight MH370 unprofessionally. Withholding relevant information from the public, and failure of the management to act with empathy, concerning the families of the victims. Public Relations Specialists advice that when faced with a crisis such as that of the Malaysian Airlines, honesty and understanding matters (Mintz, 2014). The company from the initial stages of the crisis should have been candid with the public, no matter how the situation may be. The company should have alerted the public when it became apparent that they were not to recover the whereabouts of the aircraft. This is done the moment you realize you are in contact with one of your planes. The company should in cases like this set up a crisis center for the family members affected. This was missing. In future, any airline company should be prepared for the worst. The priority should be those affected by a crisis, in our case, the families of the missing passengers.
In cases of misfortunes such as the disappearance of flight MH370, the first action is to inform the relatives of those on board the plane. As a company, let the family members know immediately about what has happened to their families. The communication should be as soon as the company learns about the incident. Public relations specialists’ advice that family members should be alerted in person but in situations where this is not possible, the family members should be called instead of being sent text messages.
A crisis center should be established at the airport where psychologists, as well as medical experts and first aiders, who are well briefed on how to handle emotional family members who are bound to break down on arrival at the airport (James & Gililand, 2012). The top management should also take the responsibility of receiving the family members who report at the crisis center.
Companies should have a dark site. A dark website is usually the point of contact where the outside world gets information when a disaster occurs. Given the time constraints in today’s world when a crisis hits, it is not possible to create a crisis site immediately. A pre-built site is normally put on standby by companies and is switched on when a crisis occurs and is used to update the public by putting information on a regular basis.
According to Claeys & Cauberghe (2012), whenever a crisis occurs, a company should accept and take full responsibility for the events that have transpired. This shows that the company is committed and feel what the affected are feeling. The company feels empathy towards those affected.
Corporations and not only airlines but any company should put in place well-defined methods of compensating family members of the victims of a catastrophe such as that of the loss of the MH370 passengers. This is because there are people who depended on the victims who are no more, for instance, a family that loses a breadwinner in incidences such as the disappearance of flight MH370 should be well compensated.
In times of crisis, the top management should be seen to be in charge of the situation. Any press conference should be conducted by the senior management and not subordinates.
Boin, A., Hart, P.T., McConnell, A. and Preston, T., 2010. Leadership style, crisis response and blame management: The case of Hurricane Katrina. Public Administration, 88(3), pp.706-723.
Claeys, A.S. and Cauberghe, V., 2012. Crisis response and crisis timing strategies, two sides of the same coin. Public Relations Review, 38(1), pp.83-88.
De Castella, T., 2014. Missing Malaysian Plane: 10 Theories Examined. BBC News Magazine.
Davidson, H. and Yuhas, A., 2014. Malaysia Airlines Plane MH17 ‘Shot Down ‘in Ukraine—As It Happened. Guardian, July, 18.
James, R. and Gilliland, B., 2012. Crisis intervention strategies. Nelson Education.
Mintz, Z., 2014. A Disastrous Void: Why The MH370 Public Response Failed. [Online] Available at: https://www.ibtimes.com/disastrous-void-why-mh370-public-response-failed-1598774 [Accessed 18 pril 2017].
Ong, W.L. and Tan, A.K., 2010. A note on the determinants of airline choice: The case of Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines. Journal of Air Transport Management, 16(4), pp.209-212.
Public Relations Society of America, 2009. About Public Relations. [Online] Available at: https://apps.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/PublicRelationsDefined/#.WPYbMkWGO01 [Accessed 18 April 2017].
Phares, T., Havron, H., Perez, C. and Waldrop, S., 2015. Malaysia Airlines Public Relations Crisis. Issues, 4, p.5.
Thomas, M., 2015. MH370 One Year On: A Lesson in Crisis Management. [Online] Available at: https://www.sammpress.com/2015/03/mh370-one-year-on-a-lesson in-crisis-management/ [Accessed 18 April 2017].
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