Image via Eddie Maloney/Wikimedia
Allegiant Airlines (ALGT) controls its own fate. As in most crises; if the accused is defensive and reactive, bad things will happen. If the accused plays to strengths and takes a long-term view with proper priorities in focus, the crises may be a catalyst, a turning point for positive change.
Consider the entire picture and potential outcomes.
Allegiant actually may not suffer long-term damage from a blistering 60 Minutes report accusing the discount carrier of an alarming rate of inflight mechanical emergencies, although it’s never had a fatal accident.
Airline observers point out that Allegiant customers are price and destination focused and the modern diluted news media doesn’t have as much public and governmental influence as it once had prior to the waterfall of niche cable news and digital news outlets.
Of note, 60 Minutes does attract a large 12.4 million show audience, and sometime much larger viewership that puts much store in its journalism. The fallout for Allegiant Airlines after the 60 Minutereport has also affected the airline’s stock, having dropped its valuation by several percentage points. We can’t verify trip bookings or passenger cancellations, although the Orlando Sentinel, a newspaper covering an Allegiant destination airport, does write there has been an immediate negative impact.
Allegiant staff morale has no doubt been affected, the relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Congress, unions, vendors, partnerships … all aspects of the Allegiant business have to be impacted by such a damning report from 60 Minutes. Allegiant’s actual passenger numbers and profits are very good but political pressure and perception affect politicians. These target audiences should have separate but complimentary business, legal and PR plans to offset what was reported in the 60 Minutes and related stories where a former National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member, who is additionally a former aircraft mechanic, had a dire warning about Allegiant.
John Goglia former NTSB member said in interviews, “I have encouraged my family, my friends and myself not to fly on Allegiant.” Goglia is a contact of mine and he repeated the same warning to me. I also gathered context for this article from a former NTSB investigator who handled the ValuJet disaster and is an aviation industry guru. Allegiant CEO Maurice Gallagher started the now defunct discount carrier ValuJet that did have that 1996 fatal accident and juggled prior reports about safety concerns.
Warnings from former NTSB and other experts should be considered but taken in perspective of all recent FAA endorsed safety facts that provide an objective picture about Allegiant.
If Allegiant has a holistic PR and business strategy, the 60 Minutes story could actually benefit the airline on many levels, but the carrier under siege should focus tightly on who and what could cause long term damage and not get distracted by the media and even initial public reaction. To modify Democrat strategist James Carville’s famous election quote, in the case of Allegiant, “it’s the politics stupid.”
I’ve handled and turned around an aviation legal and business attack by the media and the Congress and Allegiant needs to understand their most dangerous risk and address the immediate threat while not ignoring long-term concerns.
Political Perception a Threat
Congress, and what influences Congress, is Allegiant’s largest immediate threat. Congress and what it can do and what agencies it controls need priority attention and then future relationship building. Congress, naturally, responds to public pressure but it also responds to perception and media critiques are influential, especially if a media warning predates a fatal accident (repeating 60 Minutes did report Allegiant has not suffered a fatal accident to date. See the entire Allegiant statement in the Tampa Bay TimesTampa Bay Times).
Strategies Considering Pros and Cons
Looking and acting responsibly and decisively and addressing safety concerns, will serve Allegiant. Getting sidetracked and sucked into name calling with news media and the FAA could be deadly. The FAA can indeed ground flights because of safety concerns.
The PR lessons here for Allegiant, and all kinds of business, political, other leaders and PR practitioners are to:
- Know your friends and enemies
- Prioritize your threats
- Strengthen your advantages
- Follow through on promises and strategies
- Flood all markets when there is good news to report
- Use positive a personal passenger and employee testimonials
- Engage the media (trade and main stream) in a transparent and credibility-building program
- Consider ads and commercials
- Be more aggressive and proactive when weathering a crisis level attack
Allegiant Airlines has taken a very conservative response to a major news program attack and must consider more aggressive action to minimize damage, as other high-profile corporations properly have after their recent PR crises. CEO’s for Starbucks, Uber and United Airlines all have taken proactive and personal actions since their respective crisis news stories were run after upsetting events. I blogged, for example, about United’s traveling pet woes early last month https://www.commpro.biz/88853-2/. See United CEO Oscar Munoz’s appearance covered by Reuters wire service https://www.reuters.com/video/2018/03/21/it-shouldve-never-ever-happened-ual-ceo?videoId=410928950
A crisis by definition is an unusual and dangerous event, but a tipping point with potential good outcomes, and a crisis begs unusual action by the crisis victim. If Allegiant waits too long to mitigate this crisis with a strong, and a prudently aggressive crisis strategy, history has shown what Allegiant’s future will be. The airline is truly at a crucial juncture and must take responsibility for what happens next. If you define yourself as a victim, and let others define you, you will fulfill that definition.
About the Author: Scott Sobel is Senior Vice President, Crisis and Litigation Communications, at kglobal Agency, a Washington, DC-based full-service communications firm that influences public policy, increases market share + builds awareness for our commercial and federal clients. He has had various aviation clients, counsels some of the world’s best-known corporations and is also a former in-house corporate public relations practitioner; major market and TV network police and investigative journalist and a media psychologist. http://kglobal.com/who-we-are/scott-sobel; http://www.kglobal.com/