Vancouver Sun

AirAsia earns praise for handling of crisis

Profession­alism and authentici­ty of airline’s response key to the recovery of its reputation


If AirAsia bounces back from its first fatal disaster, much of the credit will go to its effusive founder Tony Fernandes and a well-oiled communicat­ions machine.

From the highly visible compassion shown by Fernandes to details such as changing the airline’s bright red logo to a sombre grey online, experts say the Malaysia-based budget carrier’s initial response to the tragedy is a textbook example of how to communicat­e in a crisis.

AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed into the Java Sea on Sunday with 162 people on board. More than two dozen bodies have been recovered so far. It was the first deadly air accident for the 13-year-old carrier, which has made air travel affordable for tens of millions of people in fastgrowin­g Southeast Asia.

AirAsia’s handling of the disaster has drawn favourable comparison­s with the bungled communicat­ions by Malaysia Airlines after Flight 370 disappeare­d March 8. But experts say the situations faced by the two airlines are so different it’s unfair to liken them.

For one, it soon became apparent the AirAsia jet had crashed, while the location of the Malaysia Airlines plane has been a mystery since it vanished a short time into its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. As a bureaucrat­ic, state-owned company, Malaysia Airlines faced constraint­s that AirAsia didn’t and which resulted in its

AirAsia has taken good care of us from day one.



often lumbering and scripted communicat­ions.

A fatal crash is typically a make-or-break event for an airline. Irrespecti­ve of the cause, the profession­alism and authentici­ty of the airline’s response are crucial for its reputation to recover. After nearly a century of commercial aviation, airlines have accumulate­d a trove of experience and knowledge about how to respond to disasters, though the lessons are not always learned or applied.

“Fernandes sounds authentic and credible,” said Caroline Sapriel, managing director of CS&A, which advises companies on crisis management. “He is looking after the priorities — the families. He is showing a lot of empathy.”

Since Sunday, Fernandes has been constantly in the spotlight, apologizin­g for the loss of life. An active Twitter user with nearly a million followers, he quickly took to social media to express shock and sympathy. On television, he has not shied away from answering questions while avoiding speculatio­n about the cause of the crash, which occurred during bad weather.

“I apologize profusely for what they are going through. I am the leader of this company and I have to take responsibi­lity,” Fernandes said at a televised news conference.

Within hours of the flight disappeari­ng from radar after taking off from Surabaya in Indonesia, he was in the city to meet with families of the passengers and crew. At the same time, the airline and its Indonesian unit in particular were issuing regular statements about the known facts in several languages and had set up a hotline for relatives.

Many family members praised AirAsia for being swift in responding to their needs. The airline was quick to arrange hotels and transport for those from outside Surabaya.

“AirAsia has taken good care of us from day one,” said Ronny Tanubun, 37, who lost his 13-year-old nephew.

Still, others complained the airline didn’t provide useful informatio­n during briefings.

“They are not telling us anything about the latest developmen­t. We have to find out by watching TV,” said Masykur, 52, who has four family members on the plane.

Even as experts praise AirAsia for its initial handling of the situation, they caution there is a long way to go before it can put the disaster behind it. Its share price is down eight per cent since the crash, wiping nearly $200 million US from the airline’s stock market value.

There is likely to be a fall-off in passengers from Indonesia, which is an important market for AirAsia, the biggest economy in Southeast Asia and the world’s fourth-most populous nation.

 ?? OSCAR SIAGIAN/GETTY IMAGES ?? Indonesian soldiers carry the coffin of Grayson Herbert Linaksita, a victim of the AirAsia crash, after the body was handed over to his family at the police hospital in Surabaya on Friday.
OSCAR SIAGIAN/GETTY IMAGES Indonesian soldiers carry the coffin of Grayson Herbert Linaksita, a victim of the AirAsia crash, after the body was handed over to his family at the police hospital in Surabaya on Friday.

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