The Concept of Managing Crisis and Southwest Airlines

“At Southwest Airlines, the Minutes After Disaster Struck” is an article written by Scott McCartney and published by the Wall Street Journal on April 24, 2018. The core idea of this article lies in understanding how Southwest Airline effectively responded to the crisis of tragic fatality due to the engine failure accident of its passenger Flight 1380. The article highlighted that the airline’s immediate public response towards the incident with honesty, sincerity and maximum effort was praised by many crisis communication experts and earned positive feedback as a morally responsible airline, despite the incident.

The employees, the top management and the CEO are the focal persons who contributed to this corporate social response in managing in-flight fatality crisis.

The main reason for choosing this article lies in the fact that it presented as a perfect example to understand the concept of “Managing Crisis”, one main topic of Chapter-3 in the textbook. More precisely, it helps me to clearly understand how the stakeholder management can be useful in managing a particular crisis in a more socially responsible way.

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Moreover, only few example scenarios about the success story of crisis management are discussed in the textbook since it stated that most business leaders have not dealt with the crisis with enough endurance and courage. Recognizing the importance of effective stakeholder management in ‘managing crisis’, I planned to exert some research effort on Crisis Management to see a bigger picture of how companies and executives in reality had (or in the future should) successfully responded to certain crisis.

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Therefore, this article review will mainly base on the ‘managing crisis’ topic, complemented by some minor discussion from stakeholder management approach.

The article was initiated with the brief background on how Southwest Airline, that prides itself for prioritizing in taking care of its passengers, faced with the fatality incident for the first time. According to McCartney (2018), as an airline company, Southwest has always prepared emergency-response plan, thoroughly designed by specialists and regularly practiced by team members to be ready at a moment of notice for any potential crisis that may arise. However, nothing serious had ever happened to kill a passenger until the latest accident on April 17, 2018, when a failed engine caused the rupture of a window, blowing Ms. Jennifer Riordan partly out of the plane. The New York-Dallas flight then had to make an emergency landing at Philadelphia and the passengers onboard started to spread the videos of the incident on their social media pages.

McCartney (2018) mentioned in the article that the videos of such grim reality can terrify the flying passengers, resulting the negative public image of the Airline that encountered the accident. However, Southwest Airline was able to make a terrific move regarding their response to the crisis. The airline made use of these social media tweets and photos to better-inform about the most recent situation on the flight and heightened the need for faster response. The airline then put their years-long emergency plan into action in taking care for the grieving family and the rest of the 148 onboard passengers on the plane (McCartney, 2018).

A series of action was carefully taken by the airline and the CEO in managing the crisis. According to the McCartney (2018), the CEO, Gary Kelly’s immediate focus was to ascertain adequate supplies and staffs in Philadelphia to take care of the travelers. In doing so, the airline dispatched a flight loaded with specially trained staffs from Dallas to Philadelphia within an hour. Onboard passengers were then assisted individually by a number of staffs for travel arrangements; some staffs were even assigned for trauma counseling and some for alleviating airport workers from crisis tension. The airline also corporate with the legal teams like NTSB for required support.

Besides, the airline also assisted the grieving family with travel arrangement by assigning four staffs to fly to Ms. Riordan’s home. On the following day after the incident, the CEO and the director of emergency response assigned hundreds of employees to follow up with personal phone calls and email by offering supplies, compensation and counseling service. Plus, individual travelers on the accident received $5000 check together with a travel voucher worth of $1000. Moreover, the CEO Gary Kelly also delivered his apology in a 40-second video on social media. Numerous updates regarding the incident and the taken actions were also issued. The airline and the CEO were then applauded for the timely response and effectual handling of the accident. McCartney (2018) concluded the article with a message from John McDonald, founder of Caeli crisis management firm, that a faster way to eliminate a negative story of the firms in managing a particular crisis is to do the right thing and ensuring all stakeholders are treated with respect.

After analyzing the case carefully, it is obvious that the article depicts Southwest airline’s effective application of the four-step crisis management approach that is discussed the course textbook. Weiss (2014) introduced a crisis approach model an organization can pertain in responding to a crisis. This crisis management model was developed by Stevin Fink which includes four steps prodromal stage (pre-crisis), acute stage, chronic stage and conflict resolution stage. Fink explained that the prodromal stage (stage one) represents the warning stage and if there is no presence of the warning, crisis management can proceed to the acute stage (stage two). This is the case for the Southwest Airline’s accident. There was no warning sign that Southwest employees and managers saw that the engine rupture and inflight fatality crisis was possible. In the acute stage, the damage has already been placed and it is the firm’s duty to resolve the destruction as much as and as quickly as possible. In the case of Southwest airline, the article clearly illustrated that the airline’s top priority was to take care of those passengers on flight with emergency-response plan immediately the moment the crisis was notified.

The chronic stage (stage three) refers to the clean-up period of the crisis management. This is a phase for recovery, healing, and cleaning the lasting effect of the crisis. Regarding this stage, Southwest was able to follow up with the travelers with extended support such as counseling service, travel vouchers, $5000 check, personal phone calls and emails for the needed resources, which resulted in positive feedback such as “friendly, understanding and concerned” on the company’s response to crisis. Fink indicates last stage “crisis resolution” as the goal of the crisis management where it announces the end of the crisis after ensuring the repression of such accidents does not occur. After all the assistance for the customers in the first three stages, Southwest performed plane engine inspection in less than a month to ensure the safety of future flights.

Beside examining the article from the view of Fink’s four step crisis management model, the article also conveys another ‘key strategic message’ in which customers perceived that the firm’s crisis management approaches are more credible if those approaches engage in CSR initiatives genuinely and evidently. From the article, it can be extracted that organizations must maintain their authenticity regardless of good or bad situations they are in. Southwest’s crisis response was truthful and open to public in accordance with their brand values.

Another main point is that organizations must consider employees as one of the most vital audiences. During the crisis, Southwest staffs were at frontline and were the center for the overall support for the travelers. I believe these are the result of effective stakeholder management such as efficient engagement, interaction and thorough trainings exercised in a unique, warm and fair organization culture. Moreover, Shine (2014) also stated that Southwest’s long lasing family-like culture strengthened and sustained the bonds of the its employee when dealing with the crisis. In addition, communicating with the media and the legal team, can pave a faster and the right way in responding to a crisis. By relying on the media, one key stakeholder, Southwest was able to track real time information and direct crisis response. Overall, the article provides me with the idea that an organization can minimize the negative impact of its crisis if it approaches the resolution in a morally responsible way by effectively coordinating and interacting with its stakeholders.

This is the significant idea Weiss (2014) is trying to explain under crisis management topic in his book. The combination methods of the stakeholder management and crisis management to help an organization to lead and change management in a more responsible and ethical way. Weiss (2014) provided some tactical recommendations that are helpful for crisis management approach that an organization should use. First of all, in order for an organization to perform a successful crisis management, the organization needs to ensure the involvement of the required stakeholders, communicating and engaging with each other relating to the crisis. Support and participation from the top management is critical and involvement is cross-departmental. In other words, effective stake holder management is an essential tool for better outcome in managing crisis.

Weiss (2014) also suggested that firms should also always reveal the truth to the public. Moreover, corporations can also hold war games to observe the team’s ability to carry out the crisis plan under pressure and train them to better respond to the crisis. Additionally, organizations can also utilize their mission, vision and motto when reacting to a crisis. For example, Southwest prioritized their customers with a sense of warmth and friendliness according to their mission. Furthermore, exploiting on the company’s intimacy to its customers is a way in obtaining early feedback regarding the firm’s response to the events. These are the key ‘business ethic concept’ by Weiss regarding crisis management and are also reflected on the tactics that Southwest has applied in reality when managing the deadly explosion crisis, which has proven a positive outcome for Southwest by emphasizing on the compassion and respect towards its stakeholders.

Conclusively, managing crisis can become a turning point for the better for an organization if carefully implemented by taking into consideration the integrity of its employees, customers, managers, shareholders and other stakeholders, leading towards the establishment of a more socially responsible business.

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The Concept of Managing Crisis and Southwest Airlines. (2021, Sep 15). Retrieved from

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