Managing a travel PR crisis – what not to do


2017 isn’t going according to plan for United Airlines, who are still dealing with the backlash of a travel PR crisis after video footage of a passenger being removed from an overbooked flight prompted global outrage. United were also in the bad books back in March for barring two teenage girls from boarding a flight for wearing “inappropriate” attire, and again this week when a rabbit, destined to be the largest in the world, suspiciously died on a flight to Heathrow.


Travel PR crisis management

But United aren’t the first major corporation to make big mistakes. In fact, questionable customer service, disappointed passengers and the world-wide web make this kind of thing quite the common affair. Join us on a trip down memory lane where we’ll look at some of the most dubious PR disasters of all time…


The Bucket List Blunder

Back in 2014, an airline’s worst nightmare became a reality when one of their planes vanished and another was shot down, with a total of 537 souls either missing or deceased.

Following the tragedies, stock prices plummeted and Malaysia Airlines had little choice but to cut 6,000 jobs. In an attempt to gain positive media coverage, the brand launched an ill-worded campaign asking customers for their ultimate bucket list destinations with the chance to win free economy class tickets.

By definition, a “bucket-list” is a number of experiences or achievements that one wishes to complete before they die. Understandably, customers found this insensitive during a tragic time and the campaign backfired, further tainting the brands image.


The Feline Fiasco

Due to relocate to California, passenger Karen Pascoe prepared to board a flight from Kennedy International Airport when she received a call from airline officials with some unfortunate news. Pascoe was informed that her Norwegian forest cat had escaped from his carrier and was nowhere to be found. She boarded the plane feline-free, assured that she would be reunited with her pet in no time.

But all wasn’t so simple and days passed before she even heard back from the airline. Pascoe began to document the disappearance on Facebook and Jack the cat became somewhat famous with his story attracting more than 24,000 animal-loving fans. Efforts to locate him were unsuccessful, until 2 months later when he fell through a ceiling in the customs area.

The cat was reunited with his owner for a short period of time. Malnourished and severely dehydrated, Jack sadly passed away only 6 days later.

R.I.P Jack ☹


The Keyboard War

It’s safe to say that online interaction isn’t a strong point for the staff at Ryanair. Some employees were undoubtedly miffed when Irish web developer Jason Roe blogged about a potential defect in the airlines booking system, allowing users to book flights at no cost.

Roe received the following reply from a user by the name of Ryanair Staff – the start of a seriously cringe-worthy exchange:

“Jason! you’re an idiot and a liar!! fact is! you’ve opened one session then another and requested a page meant for a different session, you are so stupid you dont even know how you did it! you dont get a free flight, there is no dynamic data to render which is prob why you got £0.00. what self respecting developer uses a crappy CMS such as word press anyway AND puts they’re mobile ph number online, i suppose even a prank call is better than nothing on a lonely sat evening!!”

Roe traced the IP address back to Ryanair HQ in Dublin and it was later confirmed that the comments were in fact made by Ryanair staff.

In a statement, the airlines spokesman Stephen McNamara said, “Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion. It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again. Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel.”

Keep digging, Ryanair!


The Aftermath

Sure, most of these mistakes are pretty foolish and could have been avoided, but bad press isn’t reserved for the big guns and businesses of all sizes should be prepared for the inevitable. What you choose to do after a crisis counts for a lot, and the smartest ones use the spotlight as a platform to connect with the public and redeem their brand image.

David Neeleman, CEO at JetBlue Airways handled a bad situation well back in 2007 when an operational meltdown left hundreds of passengers stranded on JetBlue planes for up to 11 hours in the midst of an ice storm. Neeleman apologised both in writing and on national television and even introduced a new Bill of Rights for customers.


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Noor Tomlinson
Marketing Executive
Noor joined the fold in 2017 and is responsible for Billian’s day to day marketing activities, which involves dipping her toes in social, e-mail, content and SEO, to name a few. She’s a serial blogger and a brand cheerleader, causing havoc in the office every time Billian gets a mention in the media!