Delta Taking A Public Relations Hit Over Crisis
PHOTO: Delta CEO Ed Bastian delivers a video apology. (Courtesy Delta Air Lines video)
Delta Air Lines has seemingly been out in front of the crisis that unfolded Monday when a computer outage forced a worldwide shutdown of its systems, causing hundreds of flight cancellations and disruptions to thousands of delayed passengers.
New CEO Ed Bastian has appeared in not one but two mea culpa videos produced by the airline, which has also waived re-booking fees and given each passenger delayed more than three hours by the event a $200 voucher. Bastian also participated in a Q&A session conducted by the Associated Press.
The Atlanta-based carrier is virtually back to a normal schedule as of today, Thursday, after three days of delays and cancellations – ahead of where many aviation and IT experts thought it would be.
But some observers and travel lobby groups say it’s still been a public relations disaster nonetheless.
Start with its own marketing campaign. For the past two years Delta has been running an outdoor ad blitz in New York in which its banners and posters read: “We Don’t Cancel Flights” and “Canceling Cancellations.”
Then there’s the initial blame factor that Delta stumbled over. It first said the problem was caused by a power outage at its Atlanta headquarters, but power provider Georgia Power denied that and said if there was a loss of power it was strictly coincedental. Delta later fessed up and claimed responsibility.
“About 2:30 Monday morning, we lost power to our core data center. The reason we lost it was that we had a power control module that failed. That caused a loss of the transformer that was providing the core power to the data center,” Bastian said in the AP interview. “We have redundant systems in place to take into account power failures. … Unfortunately, when the system tripped over to the B source, we did not have certain servers wired to protect against the power outage. As a result, it caused the entire system to come down.”
The public relations world’s bible, PR Week magazine, also noted that Delta was “relying on its corporate newsroom and social media accounts to disseminate information to customers and the press,” and lacking a certain personal touch.
That point has been emphasized by consumer groups and even politicians. Travelers United and FlyersRights sent a joint letter to Delta asking the airline to increase its $200 voucher offer, noting some displaced families paid far more than that to accommodate themselves in the wake of the outage.
In part, the letter read: “Families have missed weddings, organized tours and cruises. Businessmen have missed meetings. And, many others have been faced with financial repercussions because of Delta’s technology failure. Your airline’s customer service response has been disappointing. This event was not a cancellation of choice by passengers, nor was it an "Act of God." This is a failure by Delta.”
It then goes on to say that the Aug. 21 date to rearrange travel affected by the outage is “unreasonable” and the $200 voucher is “clearly inadequate,” noting that European Union regulations require compensation almost three times that amount.
In a statement, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said: “After this catastrophic, system-wide implosion, Delta owes every passenger a full refund — no questions asked – or rescheduled flights without costs or time limits. This airline must do more than just waive change fees. It must make each and every customer whole again.”
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