Lack of training and compassion shows in airline’s weak crisis management

When Dave Schneider was asked by Delta to check his baggage, including a $10,000 Gibson ES-335 guitar, he went along with it because, well, how else is a traveling musician supposed to get around?

Upon arriving at his destination, Schneider was devastated to see his guitar severely damaged, and even more upset when Delta personnel offered him a measly $1,000 for repairs. While Delta officials hemmed and hawed about handing over a proper settlement, Gibson guitars swooped in to boost its own reputation on the back of Delta’s failure. Here’s a quote, from a article by Matt Wilson:

Gibson guitars, on the other hand, scored a PR coup by inserting itself into the story. Though it had nothing to do with the incident, it stepped in and offered repairs on the old guitar as well as a brand new one.

“Gibson reaching out to me, that’s the cherry on top of the best musical nightmare ever,” Schneider told Yahoo news.

Delta’s failure to react properly is even more jarring in light of the fact that another major airline had a recent, and extremely public, experience with the same issue. In this quote, from the same Ragan article, Bernstein Crisis Management president Jonathan Bernstein explains:

Jonathan Bernstein of Bernstein Crisis Management says airlines ought to be acutely aware of problems that could arise from damaging musical instruments after musician Dave Carroll’s song “United Breaks Guitars” went viral in 2009. The YouTube video for that song is approaching 13 million views.

“All airlines should know how to respond quickly and compassionately to such an incident,” he says. “But apparently Delta didn’t.”

After weeks of back and forth Delta did cough up for the guitar and offered Schneider two free passes, but how eager is he to hop back on a flight with the company that just gifted him with a month-long headache?

Learning from the mistakes of others in your field is perhaps THE premiere way to bolster your own crisis management ability with no negative consequences. Immediately after the United incident in 2009 all major airlines should have been installing flexible policies and training front-line employees to cope with damage done to high-dollar items that are damaged in-flight. By failing to do so, Delta comes off as uncaring and irresponsible, not traits that we’d like in any organization tasked with carrying us 30,000 feet in the air.

By Jonathan & Erik Bernstein