In this age of social media, minute-to-minute news cycles, and instant and lasting impressions, Southwest Airlines recognized the need for comprehensive crisis communications planning. A number of competitors had been forced to confront embarrassing episodes related to safety, pricing and service. Given the brand damage that was inflicted in each case, it was obvious that these carriers had been caught flat-footed. That wasn’t going to happen to Southwest.
Southwest had to be prepared to manage crises at the moment any anticipated scenario came to fruition – be they aircraft accidents, flight disruptions, social media criticism or FAA issues.
Among many aspects of the plan, a strategy was developed to address the airline’s anticipated payment of federal fines for alleged maintenance violations. By building an ongoing media effort about the stellar track record and minimal fines, Southwest made an asset out of its well functioning peacetime rather than an ongoing news story about its exceptions.
Southwest paid a much more modest fine to the FAA than had been threatened, while industry trades, business publications and major newspapers depicted the event as rare, and as a relative success for the carrier.
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