A troubled Qantas Airbus A380 engine trouble (source unknown)

Too Soon to Qantify the Qantas Response?

If you are unfamiliar with Wednesday’s dramatic events that happened to Qantas, Austrialia’s national airline that has never had a fatal accident, the events are nicely chronicled on this post from Tnooz, a news and analysis site on the travel industry.

Condensed summary:

  • Qantas A380 makes a safe emergency return landing in Singapore after a Rolls-Royce made engine broke apart minutes after takeoff.
  • Passengers aboard the plane quickly Tweet and upload photos of videos of the engine and emergency landing efforts.
  • Reuters reports that CNBC television learns of a plane crashing near Singapore.
    • Note:  I could not evidence of a misreported crash anywhere on a CNBC website – beware of media sourcing media!
  • People on the ground on the small island of Batam upload photos of logoed engine parts (around the same time Qantas may have told Australian media there were no signs of wreckage)
  • On Wednesday evening, Qantas posted updates to its Facebook page.  The same night, one Tweet from its travel-tips account redirects inquiries to official Qantas channels, and its U.S.- targeted Twitter account adds a link the next day.

The Tnooz reporter concludes that the airline could have done more on Twitter to reassure the public.   Ragan.com’s Matt Wilson calls the situation “Qantas’s big #fail in quelling tweeted rumors of a crash.”  Crisisblogger Gerald Baron raises good questions and challenges, but ultimately grades the situation a C- to F grade

In my view, Qantas deserves a little more deliberation on its deliberation.

As-they-happen situations are incredibly difficult to manage, particularly in this era of citizen broadcasting.  (Note:  Citizen journalism is a poor term here because of lack of accountability for the misinformation that was spread.  Of course, that doesn’t explain the Reuters’ misreporting.)  Consider:

  • Qantas emergency personnel were likely focused on providing verifiable information to the ATC and officials in charge to bring the plane down safely (priority one).  I’m comfortable if this team wasn’t too focused on the management of misinformation in the short term.  
  • Qantas non-emergency communicators likely did not have verifiable information to share at the same pace as the passengers and Batam tweeters and uploaders who were on the scene.   
  • In this era of terrorism – ESPECIALLY in the wake of concerns stemming from recent thwarted cargo plane situation – it is possible that emergency officials may have dissuaded Qantas from sharing public information until enough information could be confirmed.
  • The people staffing those two Twitter accounts (one designed for U.S. customer updates, the other for travel-tips) may not have had a firm reason for being connected to this situation.  It seems that both accounts tried to centralize information to official sources.  That’s the right thing to do, since neither of these two existing Twitter accounts are designed to handle emergency information.

I do think this situation raises questions: 

Should Qantas have a main Twitter account specifically to deal with airline updates, delays and mishaps?  Probably. 

Should the timing of their incident-related Facebook and Twitter posts be more closely synchronized?  Sure.  

Should they have quickly corrected the record on the Reuters’ misreport?  It depends on what they knew at the time. 

Did a spokesperson give wrong information to CNBC?  Only Qantas knows. 

Should they have better responded to the Batam photos?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It depends on what they knew at the time and, for that matter, what they know now.  (What if that’s a plane part from an incident years ago?  What if it’s a digitally enhanced picture?)

The point:  let’s give Qantas time to analyze the situation and provide some key lessons, before passing quick judgment.  There’s always more to the story than what the public sees, hears or, in this case, tweets.

What are your thoughts and opinions?  Please share, below.

Nov. 8 update:  See related posts by Jonathan Bernstein and Geoff Barbaro.

Nov. 11 update:  More related posts from Gerald Baron, Jonathan Hemus and Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross.

5 thoughts on “Too Soon to Qantify the Qantas Response?”

  1. G'day JD, thought I might add an Australian perspective given it was a QANTAS plane travelling from Singapore to Australia. The media here picked up Twitter rumours of a plane crash, but had the corrected news pretty quickly and this was extensively retweeted by Australians. While Twitter may have become mainstream communication in the US, it is still a long way from that here and in Singapore.

    The follow up from the incident was to immediately ground all planes with the relevant engines, and they are reporting regularly (for both major morning and major evening news times) on the testing.

    The main stories in Australia have focused on the Captain of the plane. Not only did he land the plane safely, he then spent time with the passengers answering questions and gave them his personal mobile number so they could call him if anything wasn't handled from that point to their expectations – "QANTAS isn't a no-frills airline" – and the announcements he made on the plane as the emergency was happening were impressive (these were recorded on the plane by passengers and in the media within hours).

    However, it didn't help that the plane he was travelling home on was forced to turn around and land due to mechanical problems!

    I don't think we can get too carried away with Twitter. Those of us who use it regularly see lots of wrong information and bad rumours. We have actually been asking QANTAS for some time about getting on Twitter properly to respond to customer service issues.

    So I have to say that so far, I'm marking them higher than your quoted "hawks" knowing that there's still a fair bit more to come and the goodwill the Captain created can't last forever.

    Cheers, geoff

    1. Geoff,
      I appreciate your input as always and it's really great to hear from a local perspective on this situation. Thanks, also, for the Tweet on this article!
      Regards,
      J.D.

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