Malaysia Airlines flight shot down: the impact of two tragedies on the airline

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has been shot down over eastern Ukraine, claiming the lives of 298 passengers and crew.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was investigating “a number” of Australians aboard the Boeing 777.

“We are sad to say that the Dutch authorities have advised 27 Australians were on board MH17,” DFAT said in a statement.

“The department is urgently seeking to confirm this number and the identities of the Australians involved.”

The tragedy comes only months after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 mysteriously disappeared somewhere over the Indian Ocean.

Independent brand analyst Michel Hogan told SmartCompany the impact of this second disaster on Malaysia Airlines will depend on how much was within the company’s control. 

“They can’t control a plane going missing in the middle of the ocean or a military group but in this case, based on media reports, it seems they chose to fly the cheaper route,” Hogan says.   

She says if UK and US airliners have been avoiding Ukrainian airspace since the conflict began, it is “not such a great decision” to fly there.

“Someone else shot the plane down but they put the plane there,” Hogan says.

She says concerns arise if Malaysia Airlines made a specific decision as an organisation which may have contributed to the tragedy.

“That to me creates a much more complicated picture,” she says.  “You can’t just stand there and claim it was someone else’s fault.”

Malaysia Airlines released a statement this morning saying MH17’s flight route was earlier declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. But Malaysia Airlines has now diverted all flights so they no longer fly over Ukraine.

“With immediate effect, all European flights operated by Malaysia Airlines will be taking alternative routes avoiding the usual route,” the statement said.

A Flight Centre spokesperson told Fairfax earlier this year bookings with Malaysia Airlines did not drop after MH370 went missing on March 8, but Hogan says the key will be how the airline responds to this second tragedy. 

“It is going to have an awful lot to do with how they respond in the coming days,” she says.

Hogan says the “gold standard” for businesses responding to a tragedy is Johnson & Johnson’s reaction when seven people died in the United States in 1982 after taking cyanide-laced capsules of Extra Strength Tylenol.

Johnson & Johnson pulled Tylenol off the shelves across the entire country, saying its first responsibility was to people who used its assets. The company redesigned the Tylenol bottles to be tamper-proof.

“Within 12 months Tylenol sales had recovered and Johnson & Johnson came out with a stronger reputation,” Hogan says. “They never ducked and tried to blame others.”

Hogan says brand is a result of the things that you do and what you don’t do.

“Malaysia Airlines now has a brand that people associate with being dangerous to fly,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what their advertising says.”

Hogan says aside from the tragedy of the lost lives she doesn’t know whether the damage to Malaysia Airlines is repairable.

“They will take a hit, no question about it,” she says.

“If the meme takes hold that it was a terrorist attack and not the airline’s fault, that will be a better outcome for Malaysia Airlines.  If it the meme that takes hold is that Malaysia Airlines is one of the only airlines to fly through that airspace against the recommendation of the regulatory bodies then that is harder to recover from.”

Title image credit: Flickr/aero_icarus


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