(de)Humanizing an Organization

27 02 2008

I’ve been intrigued by the recent crisis facing American Airlines. By now, this is probably old news, but, in a flight this past week from Port-au-Prince to JFK Int’l, Carine Desir died, because, according to family members, flight attendants would not provide necessary medical attention, including providing her air when she said she could not breathe. American Airlines denies the family’s account, but beyond what may or may not have happened, I find it intriguing how AA is handling this.

Frankly, I wonder how, from a PR perspective, the organization’s response could possibly fair well in the end. Sure, the organization claims that it is not at fault and that all procedures were maintained in their strictest standards, but what the organization is not saying is what could doom this whole situation.

Let’s say that after an investigation, it is discovered that organization took all the necessary precautions, and something still went wrong, but was no fault of the organization. Who will the public blame? The organization. At the very least, you’d think that the public relations arm of the organization would encourage spokespeople to buy the company a little time before coming out and absolving all fault in this. Knee-jerk reactions never fair well in the end, even if you aren’t at fault.

Furthermore, there’s one other thing that the airline isn’t saying: I’m Sorry. Maybe I’ve missed it, but AA has decided to ignore offering any type of condolences to the family. This is a traumatic time for the family, and you’d think the least AA would do is try to act…I don’t know…maybe a little…HUMAN.

This is the way it usually goes:

Big Organiztaion = Insensitive/Uncaring Entity

And AA is only reinforcing that image. I offered this up to my undergraduate classes in Public Relations I teach, asking them what they would do. After 5 minutes of discussions, here’s what they came up with: Say I’m sorry and assure the public that, though it is not at fault, it would be conducting extensive research into what exactly went wrong.

It seems to me, if 18-20 year old college students can figure this out, why can’t AA?