Airline endures turbulent week

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.”




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.



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.


And the airline had to scramble to deny it was making light of air fatalities.



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.


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our journalist-led social media and crisis communication training courses.


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