Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Careful What You Say…

By: Kristen Paquet, Sr. Account Executive, Leonard & Finco Public Relations

About a week ago, passengers on a Southwest flight from Tampa to Raleigh-Durham were told something you never want to hear on a plane: “we’re going down.” Within seconds of that message from the plane’s captain, passengers felt the aircraft go into a nosedive as they frantically texted and called loved ones.

But the plane landed safely. It was all a terrible mistake. According to Southwest, the plane was losing pressure so to compensate, the captain took the plane on a rapid decent (or going down) in an attempt to fix the pressure issue. However, the captain’s message was issued over the PA system for all passengers to hear and react to.

It has been argued that the captain mistakenly turned on the PA system for the entire cabin instead of for flight attendants and didn’t realize he was speaking to the passengers when he said “we’re going down.” I say argued, because although this is the account from passengers, Southwest has issued a statement that the captain said no such thing and instead said he was going to “lower altitude.”

I’m not arguing that the captain did or did not use the words “we’re going down.” The fact is, more than one passenger heard something to that effect. But I don’t believe the captain meant to do any harm, either. I can’t possibly imagine the stress he was under during that time. A mistake could have happened.

But no matter what, Southwest has an issue on its hands and so far all that’s been done is to call passengers liars and throw $200 ticket vouchers at it. Sorry, but if that happened to me, I’m not flying Southwest again anytime soon. Perhaps Southwest should have held out on any specific statement until they had a chance to do an investigation into exactly what happened (which is going on now).

To me, this is a great – although a little extreme – example of how words, if not chosen carefully, can do a lot of damage. And I’m not just talking about the captain’s words, but for Southwest making statements before all information has been gathered.

Can you think of another time where just a few words were weighted so heavily? What was it about and what was the outcome?

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