There’s nothing quite like the intense pressure generated by a crisis media management incident.
So, imagine having to face three damaging reputational issues in one week.
That was the situation faced by one airline recently as it nosedived from one crisis to another.
KLM’s turbulent week, which created social media storms and negative headlines across the world, began with it causing online outrage with a response to a Facebook post which said mothers could be asked to ‘cover up’ while feeding their babies during a flight.
Responding to a mother on Facebook who posted about her experience of being told to cover herself while feeding her baby on a flight from San Francisco to Amsterdam, the airline said that ‘breastfeeding is permitted’.
It added: “However, we strive to ensure that all passengers of all backgrounds feel comfortable onboard.
“Therefore, we may request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this.”
Breastfeeding is permitted at KLM flights. However, to ensure that all our passengers of all backgrounds feel comfortable on board, we may request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this.— Royal Dutch Airlines (@KLM) July 16, 2019
@KLM created its own #PR mess with outdated policy. Public shaming & embarrassment are huge barriers to breastfeeding that need to stop. As if flying with a baby isn't already stressful enough, moms shouldn't have to worry about offending people with archaic views of nursing. https://t.co/iRhvtjSRTs— Alex Russell (@alexrussellYVR) July 18, 2019
Dear @KLM @KLM_UK Thousands & thousands have seen your messages in last few days where you prioritise a hypothetical anti-breastfeeding person ahead of comfort & needs of a baby. It has gone viral and infected your reputation as an airline. You’re going to leave it like this?— Emma Pickett (@makesmilk) July 17, 2019
In a further statement, it subsequently added that “not all passengers feel comfortable with breastfeeding in their vicinity”
As we tell delegates on our social media courses, inevitably what is causing a storm online catches the attention of mainstream media.
KLM breastfeeding policy causes turbulence BBC News
KLM flight attendant tells mum to ‘cover yourself’ while breastfeeding child Sky News
A Dutch airline is under fire for asking a breastfeeding mom to cover up to respect other passengers’ cultures CNN
The airline was then forced to launch an investigation into a customer service email, reportedly sent in the midst of the breastfeeding row, which said staff would intervene during a flight if anyone felt uncomfortable about a same-sex couple being on board.
A screenshot of the email went viral and the airline said it “completely understood’ why the reply was causing offence.
Gay brothers and sisters, @KLM will approach you and let you know someone has complained about you holding hands on board. The crew will decide the best course of action. Cc: @stonewalluk pic.twitter.com/t8dJTBwcsy— Erin ‘Normalise It’ Resists (@ErinClaireSF) July 18, 2019
Dutch airline investigates homophobic email in wake of breastfeeding row The Telegraph
Airline KLM accused of sending ‘homophobic’ email about cabin crew ‘approaching’ same-sex couples Independent
But the controversy and crisis media management didn’t end there.
While airlines typically go out of their way to stress the safety statistics of flying, KLM opted for a somewhat different approach.
It posted a tweet which explained passengers should aim for a seat at the back of a plane if they didn’t want to die in a crash.
The now-deleted tweet came from its Indian division and said that "According to data studies by Time, the fatality rate for the seats in the middle of the plane is the highest."
A second tweet encouraged users to guess where the safest seats are on an airplane.
The posts caused Twitter to take off.
The #PR people at @KLM are idiots for tweeting that some seats are safer than others. As someone who has worked in aviation safety for 34 years and on 16 major accidents, I know that flying is safer than breathing. What were they thinking? #dumbass https://t.co/PAlk5g10qR— David Fuscus (@DavidFuscus) July 18, 2019
Oh dear @KLM in a week you’ve managed to offend breastfeeding mothers and same sex couples as well as telling people where they are most likely to die sat on one of your planes. Were you making too much money and trying to give your custom away?!— Jayne Young (@Beautynbride2b) July 19, 2019
I see @KLM have followed up yesterday’s time warp tweets on breastfeeding with an actual guide to which of their seats are most likely to kill you.— Simon McGarr (@Tupp_Ed) July 18, 2019
This is really some top notch PR brand engagement. pic.twitter.com/4bG5Ew4j4e
And the airline had to scramble to deny it was making light of air fatalities.
We would like to sincerely apologise for a recent update. The post was based on a publically available aviation fact, and isn't a @KLM opinion. It was never our intention to hurt anyone's sentiments. The post has since been deleted.— KLM India (@KLMIndia) July 17, 2019
It said: “We would like to sincerely apologise for a recent update. The post was based on a publically (SIC) available aviation fact, and isn't KLM opinion.It was never our intention to hurt anyone's sentiments. The post has since been deleted."
But that was not enough to save it from another round of damaging headlines.
Airline reveals plane seat most likely to kill you in a crash Metro
KLM apologises after it revealed where in a plane you are most likely to DIE Daily Mail
KLM apologises for revealing in which seat passengers are most likely to die New Zealand Herald
KLM blasted for sharing tweet about fatalities based on seats New York Post
A spokesperson for the airline said it would be ‘reviewing its Twitter protocol’ – after a week like this, that review can’t come soon enough.
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