(Not) Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

So, as recent blog posts have indicated, I’ve traveled A LOT in the past two weeks, which put me directly in the midst of the current airline image crisis.  I managed to escape the blips, but just barely—I landed in London on British Airways exactly one day before the Terminal 5 screw-up, and I flew on American Airlines the morning its planes began lining up for safety checks… only to stay grounded due to wiring problems.

Despite my good fortune in the skies, these recent crises have further tarnished the image of an industry that was already experiencing serious turbulence.  The PR teams for British Airways and American Airlines (which are partner airlines, to boot—ouch) are taking heat for mismanaging communications about the “inconveniences,” but there are a few bright spots as well: American announced it was hiring an outside company to review its process for complying with government inspections, which lends credibility to the airline’s commitment to safety. And, of course, grounding flights, despite the annoyance of delays and cancellations, is far better than putting a faulty piece of metal into the air (although I am the first to admit that these safety red flags mean I’ll be packing Xanax in my carry-on from now on).

Then, yesterday, American’s CEO Gerard Arpey said he is taking “personal responsibility” for the maintenance errors that prompted the disruptions for travelers. “I run the company,” he said at a news conference, “so if there’s any blame to be had, it is my fault, and I take full responsibility for this.”

Good for him.

Of course, these inspection snafus point to a bigger issue—one that concerns the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight of its safety regulations.  While this story will continue to unfold in the coming days, the skies aren’t looking so friendly for the PR execs who must now manage the crippled reputations—and airplanes—at the center of this debacle.

By Courtney Barnes