A review of Jet Airways’ first, official statement on the ‘9W697 cabin-pressure’ mess

The Jet Airways flight returned to the Mumbai airport an hour after take-off on Thursday (September 20, 2018) morning. The social media world was abuzz with videos from inside the plane, and a LOT of other updates from people and media.

Jet Airways knows that this is going to be front-page news in almost every print newspaper today (September 21).

The first thing people would want to know amidst everyone else talking about how horrible Jet Airways mismanaged a particular flight is… ‘What does Jet Airways say about this?’. That is the one BIG opportunity for Jet Airways to reduce the damage caused to its reputation, to ensure that this is an isolated incident caused by human error and that their crew/employees are all not like this (a sweeping assumption most people are bound to make, given the gravity of this incident). Forget DGCA for a second, what should Jet Airways be communicating to the public?

Common-sense would dictate that they should,
(a) apologize genuinely, without mincing words
(b) take responsibility for the blunder categorically
(c) showcase empathy while communicating how they would avoid such incidents from happening again

This is a simple common-sense approach, not a communications-expert approach.

And what does Jet Airways first public-facing reaction contain?

This.

***
Following the air-turn back of Jet Airways’ flight 9W 697 of 20th September 2018; 144 of the 166 guests of the original flight traveled to Jaipur via an alternative Jet Airways flight, while 17 of them wished to travel at another point in time.

5 guests who were referred to a hospital for additional medical check-up accompanied by the Jet Airways Care team have since been released, post medical examination. We will continue to offer necessary medical care and attention to the concerned guests as required.

We are also extending full cooperation to the DGCA for the ongoing investigation of the event.

We regret the inconvenience caused to our guests.
***

1. ‘air-turn back of Jet Airways’ flight 9W 697’?

Do people understand what ‘air-turn back’ even means? Do they care?

2. ‘144 of the 166 guests of the original flight traveled to Jaipur via an alternative
Jet Airways flight, while 17 of them wished to travel at another point in time’.

WHY? Why did they do this? Did Jet Airways assume that people reading this statement will connect the horrendous stuff they have read throughout Thursday everywhere else and automatically reconcile, ‘Oh Jet is talking about that ghastly incident where they forgot to do something as per SOP and those people traveled to Jaipur via an alternative flight… aah ok, that explains it!’? Why not use this opportunity to tell your own story, in your own words, not merely continuing from other viewpoints that are mind-blowingly damaging to your brand?

3. ‘5 guests who were referred to a hospital for additional medical check-up accompanied by the Jet Airways Care team have since been released, post medical examination.’

WHY? Why were they referred to a hospital? Would people assume, ‘Oh that? That incident earlier today that I read about in many Whatsapp messages and online about how badly Jet Airways had goofed up? That makes perfect sense, yeah.’?

4. ‘We regret the inconvenience caused to our guests.’

Inconvenience? INCONVENIENCE? Do I take it that amidst your entire communications team, in-house and agency-side, not one person suggested a better word to refer to the impact? If they were taken to a hospital, and if everyone is talking about ‘nose bleeding’ and ‘ear bleeding’, shouldn’t you address the impact a bit more sensitively than ‘inconvenience’? In context, ‘inconvenience’ is what you use when a passenger gets her meal 5 minutes later.

Now, shall we take a look at the common-sense based points above, once again?
(a) apologize genuinely, without mincing words
(b) take responsibility for the blunder categorically
(c) showcase empathy while communicating how they would avoid such incidents from happening again

Your apology was ‘regret the inconvenience’.

You took no responsibility. In fact, you were even shy of mentioning the incident that caused all this!

Your fig-leaf of empathy was, “We will continue to offer necessary medical care and attention to the concerned guests as required.”

Releasing a holding statement is so last century crisis communications. Today, you have the world talking about an incident seconds after it happens. You noticed it all, I’m sure, all through the day, and came up with a statement by evening.

Did you fail to realize that this will be seen *AFTER* the same readers have seen many, many other versions?

So, you had the one opportunity to tell your side of the incident, in a way that mitigates the damage to your reputation (whatever is left; remember that you have so many other extremely diligent, sincere and responsible people working for you) to some minor extent. And you offer this almost-robotic statement that completely lacks any context or empathy? Why? How did your communications team and your PR agency let this through?

Don’t you realize that you can have people talking about what they read from other sources (other than you) *and* what you say, if only you say something of value to them… something that has them thinking, ‘Hmmm, that was indeed a terrible, terrible thing to happen. But I fully understand that mistakes happen… things go wrong as a result. And Jet seems honest when they take responsibility unequivocally without trying to shirk it off or avoid mentioning it. Looks like they will take this as a very serious lesson and make changes in their process to avoid it in the future’.

Shouldn’t your very first official statement about the incident work towards that reaction? As against assuming that ‘people know everything already… what more do we have to add… why even bother adding anything… let us confine ourselves to a stock statement for DGCA’s sake’ and bother about damage control from the next day onwards, using our media-relations team’? If that was the case, why even bother building your own media channel to talk directly to users, on Facebook and Twitter? Remember this ‘press release’ from November 2012?

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