Airline Industry to Public: We Don’t Like You, Either!

As PR professionals, we constantly preach about the importance of self-awareness. Brands, companies and people must always be privy to what the public is thinking and feeling. Being tone deaf–or even conveying the perception of being tone deaf–to public sentiment can be PR suicide.

But what about the public’s own collective self-awareness? History has proven that the public is capable of some pretty grisly acts, and those horrible transgressions typically occur when the public is the least self-aware. So let’s take a deep breath and do a little soul searching.

In the PR realm, we’ve addressed, for example, the public’s role in the mistreatment of Kate Middleton and the invasion of her privacy. And now, thanks to a book titled Tales from the Tarmac and written by 16-year airline industry veteran Claudia Helena Oxee, we can once again look into the mirror. The reflection isn’t pretty–Ms. Oxee’s perception of us is both unfiltered and unforgiving.

Because air travel is fraught with aggravating delays, embarrassing security pat downs and frustrating customer service experiences, the public has grown to loathe the airline industry. But, as Ms. Oxee reveals, the feeling is mutual! Ever since air travel lost its exotic appeal and became less exclusive (turning planes into mere buses in the sky), the customers who fly on airlines have treated the mode of travel as an unwanted hassle—and they dress, plan and behave accordingly.

Ms. Oxee thinks we should be ashamed of ourselves, and perhaps she’s right. Flying is indeed a stressful experience, and when confronted with stress people can act in unbecoming ways. They can be rude, condescending, insulting or just flat out drunk and obnoxious. For travelers, these are isolated moments in our journeys. But for airline industry employees they are everyday occurrences.

As PR professionals, we instinctively see this disconnect between the airline industry and the public and think, “Hmm, this our area of expertise. Now what can we do to close the contentious gap that exists between the public and the airlines?”

Does the blame reside with one party, or is there plenty of blame to go around? (We’re leaning toward the latter.)

Blame rarely accomplishes anything, so we should focus on how we’re going to fix this. Any suggestions?