There are so many conflicting statements involved in the story of the safety allegations concerning Southwest that I can’t work out for myself who’s the villain, if in fact there is one. But it’s perhaps the first case I can remember of an airline using its blog to defend its safety record. The airline must be horrified by what’s going on. It’s living proof of the old adage that it takes years to build a reputation but it can be lost in a moment. Also of another adage about mud sticking – fairly or not.
Here’s what they’re fighting – the Dallas Morning News has the transcript of Rep James Oberstar’s comments about Southwest and the FAA from Friday. The most serious safety lapse at the agency in 23 years, he says. (However be sure to read the comments – astounding stuff from people who clearly know a lot about what was going on, although may have their own axes to grind.)
And here’s what they’ve done. First there was this post last Thursday which has now gathered 113 comments – including some pretty vicious ones. That was followed by this on Friday pointing readers to the video of Southwest CEO Gary Kelly’s lengthy interview on CNN.
It’s hard not to be impressed by Kelly – he’s obviously got a a firm grasp of the facts and he makes a good job of the interview. I would say that his performance would not go down that well in Europe (the UK anyway), way, way too corporate. But US audiences have grown used to that sort of thing and it seems to me they quite admire someone who can carry it off.
Southwest also have support from Boeing, who issued this statement:
Southwest Airlines contacted Boeing for verification of their technical opinion that the continued operation of their Classic 737s, for up to ten days until the airplanes could be reinspected, did not pose a safety of flight issue. Based on a thorough review of many factors, including fleet history and test data, as well as other inspections and maintenance previously incorporated, Boeing concluded the 10-day compliance plan was technically valid. In Boeing’s opinion, the safety of the Southwest fleet was not compromised.
Incidentally Jetblue CEO David Neeleman‘s apology for the airline’s scheduling meltdown more than a year ago is still on YouTube where its now had nearly 315,000 views – an incredible number – and has attracted 386 comments. I wrote about it at the time, but it does raise the interesting tactical question of how smart it is to leave a public apology on the web ’til the end of time. Press releases generated in negative circumstances are generally removed once the storm has passed.