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PRs and passports- Travel campaign fails, and crisis success stories

On 17th May we’re sponsoring ABTA, the Association of British Travel Agents, for a Manchester event on Crisis Management Communications. The aim being to offer practical advice and guidance on how travel brands can better plan for marketing and comms catastrophes, or avoid them altogether.
Those interested in attending should follow this link for details on tickets, times and venue.
To mark the occasion, we’ve come up with some of the biggest travel marketing fails in recent memory, along with good examples of brands successfully managing fall out, and living to fight- or fly- another day. Many of which tie in with Smoking Gun MD Rick Guttridge’s blog post on ‘Just how much is your CEO really worth to your business‘.
[Tweet “ABTA event in Manchester on Crisis Management Communications via @SmokingGunPR “]


United Airlines – Not dressed like that you’re not
Last weekend, U.S. carrier United stopped two girls from boarding a flight in Denver because their leggings were ‘inappropriate’. Insisting they changed clothing, social media channels lit up like a major airport runway immediately afterwards, with criticism largely focussed on what right the company had to demand this.
Perhaps surprisingly, no apology has been issued, and instead the incident was explained as follows- the girls were on complimentary tickets as friends and family of crew, and therefore representing the airline, which requires all spokespeople- on or off duty- to dress accordingly. Reassurances have now been given- regular passengers are free to wear whatever- but the poor communication when news first broke could have been improved with ease.
Ryanair – Idiot bloggers
Europe’s ‘favourite’ low cost airline is no stranger to controversy, but ‘blogger-gate’, from a few years back, is probably the best, or worst, example. After an online scribe criticised the company’s booking process, staff members left a string of nasty comments beneath the article, which was then followed by an official statement that did little to avoid further turbulence…
It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy in corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again.
Needless to say, this is not the way to deal with the media, and it did the firm no favours amongst public or press.
[Tweet “How not to handle a #travel #brand crisis via @SmokingGunPR”]
Malaysia Airlines – Inappropriate in extremis
Malaysia’s national carrier suffered a catastrophic period during 2014, with one aircraft vanishing altogether, leading to a global search for evidence. A genuine tragedy, what happened next beggars belief.
In an attempt to gain positive media coverage, the brand launched a campaign asking for passengers to send in their Ultimate Bucket List destinations, potentially winning free economy class tickets or iPads for responding. The problem being that bucket lists are generally things you want to do before you die, making for an unwelcome reminder of what had just happened.
U.S. State Department – Not a 10 (hopefully never again)
In the run up to Spring Break 2016, the U.S. State Department issued a series of tweets designed to make travellers think about how not to #springbreakbadly. Sadly, most were seen as condescending, and mistrusting of the intentions of people in other countries, but one took that biscuit to a whole new level:
Need a translation? Put simply, if someone abroad is trying to buy you drinks and you’re not that good looking, then they are up to something. Reactions were, as you would imagine, angry- citing racism, xenophobia, and sexism.


[Tweet “How to handle a #travel #brand crisis via @SmokingGunPR”]
Jet Blue – Worst week of your life
After an ice storm hit East Coast America in 2007, Jet Blue’s operations all but collapsed, with over 1,000 cancelled flights in five days, leaving many people stranded with no chance of reaching their destination.
The ripple effect was almost as devastating- with planes in the wrong place once weather conditions improved. However, CEO David Neeleman responded admirably- rather than blaming the climate, he wrote a personal, public letter of apology to all customers, appeared on a number of national TV shows to say sorry for the carrier’s failings, and introduced a new bill of rights for passengers, detailing what the company would do to compensate, including monetary reimbursement.
Lufthansa -Responding to tragedy
Following the horrific Germanwings air disaster- in which 150 people lost their lives after the pilot, who suffered from depression, deliberately crashed a plane into the Alps- parent company Lufthansa gave a lesson in crisis management.
Moving quickly, all brand messages that could be deemed inappropriate were removed online and offline, with ads pulled from the London Underground almost immediately. Carsten Spohr, head of the company, also won praise from the industry for his approach to the media- promising greater psychological scrutiny of staff, offering truly sincere condolences, whilst also sticking to the facts of the situation in a bid not to add more emotional strain to those affected.

Looking for more advice on PR, social media, and marketing? Why not get in contact or submit a brief to inject a little ingeniousness into your brand.

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