Summer weekend rerun: Lac-Mégantic and Asiana Airlines: Public Relations 101


Originally posted July 11, 2013

We have recently seen two tragic transportation events unfold and two very different ways the companies in question reacted.

On July 6th Asiana Airlines flight 214, while attempting to land at San Francisco International airport, clipped the ground causing the tail to become dislodged. According to witnesses the Boeing 777 cartwheeled and burst into flames. Sadly two teen-aged girls were killed and many other passengers received serious injuries.

The company took the blame for the accident

The next day, Asiana Airlines President and CEO Yoon Young-doo, as well as other members of senior management and directors didn’t go into damage control. What they did was apologize publicly for the accident by standing in front of a room full of media representatives and bowing. Almost unheard of in modern business practice, the solemn bow and apology preceded any talk of insurance claims or threats of criminal investigations or liabilities. The company took the blame for the accident.

AP Photo/Lee Jin-man
AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

Late on Friday, July 5th a train belonging to Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Inc. somehow, after being parked, came loose and started rolling from the town of Nantes in Quebec toward the larger town of Lac-Mégantic. Very early Saturday morning the residents of Lac-Mégantic were roused from their beds by an incredible explosion as the train derailed in the downtown core of the city. The train was carrying oil and burst into flames. Latest figures indicate that 20 people have been killed and dozens remain unaccounted for.

In other words he started pointing fingers of blame

Five days later, the Chairman of Montreal Maine and Atlantic, Edward Burkhardt, visited the crash site. He mentioned that the engineer of the train had been suspended and that he believed the police were questioning him. In other words he started pointing fingers of blame. In a manic media scrum Burkhardt stated the engineer may not have used enough hand-brakes to secure the train. Yet no investigation has been made public that would back-up his statement. The people of Lac-Mégantic hadn’t waited five days for this kind of reaction.

PHOTO: ALAIN ROBERGE, LA PRESSE
PHOTO: ALAIN ROBERGE, LA PRESSE

I believe Mr. Burkhardt could learn a few valuable lessons from Mr. Yoon Young-doo.

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