Malaysia Airlines: Victim of Its Own Poor PR?

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing on March 8 with 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board. These 239 souls left hundreds of family members on the ground waiting for and later, demanding answers.

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During the following weeks, well-intended speculation led to media reports of the whereabouts of MA370 and what happened during its flight. After learning that the plane diverted from its original route and turned west, the search for the plane shifted south to the Indian Ocean where there were multiple reports of debris sightings. With families more hopeful than ever, their spirits were quickly crushed when they received notice from Malaysia Airlines itself on March 24.

“Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived. As you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia’s Prime Minister, we must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.” 

For those family members that have been anxiously awaiting news in hotels provided by the airline, they received this message face-to-face. However, those that were not at the hotels nor answered the airline’s calls received the news in a way that enraged people worldwide — via text message.

Those who received the text message did volunteer their phone numbers to receive news through these means, but the fact that Malaysia Airlines chose to use text messaging as a channel of crisis communication shocked the public.

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Since MA370 disappeared, Malaysia Airlines has failed at the most important trait of crisis communication: transparency. The airline has let speculations swirl and officials of other countries release information about possible debris as they have remained, for the most part, quiet. Aside from the occasional press conference and the daily updates on the company’s website (that fails to detail the current state of the investigation), Malaysia Airlines has remained remote, vague and anything but transparent.

Granted, the situation is an ongoing investigation, but Malaysia Airlines is quickly developing a secretive, unhelpful and untrustworthy image as families continue to ask questions and receive only basic information — investigating and speculating about the situation themselves and some even beginning to sue the airline.

Hopefully, the families of those whose loved ones were on board will receive answers soon. However, will Malaysia Airlines ever be able to recover from the accident? Will it regain the public’s trust after the reputation it has gained? What could Malaysia Airlines have done better?

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