Lesson From Thai Airways Blackout Failure: Social Media Is Everywhere
Airport staff works around a Thai Airways plane that skidded off the runaway while landing, as another takes off in the distance, at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport. Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters
It would seem clear to everyone but a high-ranking executive that a little real-life Photoshop can’t erase a mistake, and actually sets the company back as opposed to providing a short-term band aid.
Airlines’ attempts to reduce the negative impact on their brands by obliterating the identity of aircraft involved in accidents are outdated and can cause even more damage, say industry experts.
That has become a reality given the immediacy of press and social media coverage that leaves no time for airlines to cover up images after a plane crash, as Thai Airways International attempted to do last week at Suvarnabhumi airport.
“I suppose the practice of blotting out names and logos among some airlines needs to be updated, given today’s technology and social media,” said an executive of an international airline organisation who requested anonymity.
A couple of decades ago, there was often time for a cover-up to be done before any cameras were on the scene.
But that was long before the days of social media and before almost every passenger had a camera on them in the form of a smartphone.
More often than not nowadays, filming of a major incident takes places instantaneously and often live.
“Today, the world already knows which airline has been involved in an incident and has seen pictures of the aircraft,” said another executive of an international airline alliance who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
A British executive of a regional airline group, who also asked not to be named, said: “We do not realise how much we are under surveillance by people around us with cameras. Everybody is still learning how fast social media works and how information and pictures are shared so quickly and widely.”
Many airlines now seem to feel it is better to be seen to be applying all of their efforts in the immediate aftermath of an incident to the people affected.
And actions such as covering up airline logos should be left until later, if done at all, as some people may interpret this as the company’s initial thoughts being focused on its reputation rather than on the people involved, the airline alliance executive explained.
However, this is a matter for each airline to decide, taking into account any cultural sensitivities at the scene, the people involved and many other issues that may not be obvious.