Executive Rewind: When You’re Caught Up in a Another’s Crisis

When one business’s crisis impacts your business, you probably will be in the sights of the news media. Pre-preparation is advised.

After two disastrous crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX 8, 387 of the new model airplanes making 8,600 weekly flights for 59 airlines were grounded worldwide. Those airlines were forced to cancel thousands of flights and make major adjustments in schedules.

Two Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas-based carriers, Southwest and American, are Boeing 737 customers. In fact, Southwest flies 737’s exclusively. It is Boeing’s biggest 737 buyer, and it has 34 MAX 8’s in its fleet and had committed to 41 more by the end of 2020. American Airlines has a diverse fleet which includes 24 of the MAX 8’s.

Both airlines have a long relationship with Boeing that will continue. So, while that relationship is important, but both airlines have been set back by the air disasters and resulting groundings.

That required a careful balancing act when they talked through the media directly to Boeing executives, one of their two most critical target audiences for these interviews.

There have been repeated delays in getting the MAX’s back in the air, a major irritant for American Airlines CEO Doug Parker:

Parker’s message to Boeing: we’re frustrated, but hopeful things finally are on track.

Since his airline only flies 737’s, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly’s message to Boeing was more direct and urgent:

Kelly took advantage of his interview to reassure his customers and send a message to Boeing on their behalf:

Both Southwest and American have taken a significant financial hit on the groundings and delays. So, another message to Boeing is quite clear. First American’s Doug Parker:

Southwest’s Kelly says his airline took a $828 million hit on earnings last year, which translated into 28% less than anticipated. He had a pointed reminder for Boeing:

Your messaging challenge always is critical in a crisis. In a case like this, it is especially sensitive when the business in crisis is critical to your continued growth and success. Clearly defining your audiences and what you need to say to them and how you say it through the media requires careful preparation with objective oversight in during your preparation.


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