Breaking news this morning out of Malaysia: Disaster-prone Malaysia Airlines announced it was changing its name. The powers-that-be, including the majority shareholder Malaysian government, obviously feel this lame attempt at rebranding will solve the airlines sticky crisis management image. This is akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
This is sheer lunacy from the airline that routed a flight over a known armed civil war in the Ukraine in order to save fuel costs, and then was surprised when its plane was shot down by a land-to-air missile, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.
That was Malaysia Airline flight 17, not to be confused with Malaysia Airlines flight 370, that disappeared who-knows-where without a trace last March, with a manifest of 227 passengers and 12 crew. The airline displayed such ineptitude that it was incapable of tracking its own plane, or taking the lead in a search to find it after it was clear it was missing.
For those keeping score at home, the gory tally now stands at 537 souls lost in two tragedies.
Malaysia Airline apparently has not come to grips with the fact that its crisis – oh, yes, it has one! – is not cosmetic. There are serious changes that need to be made there, and a name change in the interest of managing the crisis is an insult to the victims and the families of the victims of those two flights. I might have some modicum of confidence in the airline if it announced substantive management changes that specifically addressed issues that need to be addressed (too numerous to list here).
Ironically, Malaysia Airline seems to be taking a page from the crisis management procedural of early aviation. It may sound apocryphal, but back when commercial aviation was in its infancy, passengers had to board and disembark planes via a stairway on the tarmac. The name of the airline was emblazoned just above the doorway so that when news photographers snapped photos of movie stars entering or leaving the doorway, the name of the airline also got some publicity. (Click here or here for examples).
And it was the job of every PR person who worked for an airline, in whatever city they were stationed, to carry a bucket of white paint and a brush in his car at all times. In the event of a plane crash, that person’s job was to rush to the accident scene and paint out the name of the airline before the news photographers showed up. This from the “out of sight, out of mind” school of crisis management.
Malaysia Airlines announced tactic is no better, and as a crisis management strategy, it should be shot down.