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Alaska Air blows more than a hole in its fuselage
December 30, 2005 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Jeremy Hermanns' flight on Alaska Air #536 was out of the ordinary, to say the least. A baggage handler ran into the plane before takeoff and didn't bother to report it. So when the plane reached altitude, its cabin suddenly depressurized, and was forced back to Sea-Tac Airport. Jeremy, who has experience as a pilot, posted about what happened on his blog. Rather than offer an apology, Alaska Air employees have taken to bashing him from company IP addresses.

This brings up a larger question, though. What should companies do when their products or services fail, and consumers (almost inevitably) discuss it in a public forum? Jeff Jarvis' Dell incident comes to mind. In that link, he mentions Dell's no talking to customers on blogs policy.

Would you rather have a company that reached out to disgruntled customers, or pushed them away? I've seen more than one small software company comment on a blog or take direct action as a result of a post -- is that the preferable route today?
posted by bitter-girl.com (40 comments total)

 
If you read the comments on the first link, scroll to the bottom and read up. It's easier to take that way.

Alaskan should have a qualified communications professional who is on top of this and responds to the blog post, stating who they are and what they are doing about the incident.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 9:37 AM on December 30, 2005


"Maybe if you turned your cell phone off like you are supposed to, none of this would have happened. Idiot. "

Lol.
posted by delmoi at 9:39 AM on December 30, 2005


strangeleftydoublethink, I'm of the same mind as you. I'll take a decent explanation over being ignored (or, worse, a really insincere apology) anyday.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:45 AM on December 30, 2005


Alaskan Airlines are obviously a company in trouble it sounds like. Poor media relations and cost-cutting non-union hiring. It's making the investor's happy in the long-term. At least for an airline company. I wonder when their business practices will, if ever, catch up to them.
posted by geoff. at 9:46 AM on December 30, 2005


and what is up with all the protugees coments?

É por isso que digo Legalize já!!!!
Hemp! Hemp!
hahahahhahahahah!!!!!


??
posted by delmoi at 9:46 AM on December 30, 2005


These companies should be serving their customers with the expectation that each and every one of them is going to go online and post a high profile review.
posted by fire&wings at 9:47 AM on December 30, 2005


A friend of mine recently posted on her blog her thoughts about a new product from Kashi, which she had received free from the company as part of a trial period. She blogged her thoughts, which were negative. A few months later she received a letter in the mail explaining that she may have received a product from a bad batch, along with a coupon for a new one. While I'm somewhat surprised that someone from the company actually found her blog (I guess customer relations must Google daily), I do think that's the way to respond. Commenting on the blog is far too informal.
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:53 AM on December 30, 2005


Wouldn't that be ideal, fire&wings? I have my own online business. I realize that if I do something bad or wrong to *one* person, they could trash me everywhere and kill my sales. But instead, I really bend over backwards. For example: a customer ordered something that was out of stock and the artist was on the road for the summer. So I offered to refund the money. She said she'd wait. Periodically, I'd email her with an update. By the time she actually received the merchandise (months later -- no joke), she actually *thanked* me for keeping her in the loop and being so communicative. She's since ordered from me again. Now -- imagine I hadn't, and I just left the order open for months until it could be filled...... that's kind of what Alaska Air is doing here.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:54 AM on December 30, 2005


I laugh that every mention of the worker who hit the plane emphasises "non-union", as if theres some magical union fairy that would have prevented the whole thing if only this guy paid his union dues.
posted by jeffmik at 9:55 AM on December 30, 2005


Were many of those comments spam? They seemed relevant, but irrelevant to some degree when I was reading it earlier today.

1. I agree with schoolgirl report for the most part. An official email followed up with a real, honest-to-goodness pulp-based communication is a much better route.

2. While it's not an exact matchup with an airline, I do like how CDBaby does its customer relations. Up front and honest and when there are problems they tell you what they are, why they happened and what they're doing about them. I've used that in my own, rather limited, customer service experience to great effect.
posted by Captaintripps at 9:56 AM on December 30, 2005


Non-union workers don't easily get fired for just screwing up, so they have more incentive to report screw-ups rather than covering them up. That's the theory at least.
posted by smackfu at 9:57 AM on December 30, 2005


Oops, I meant union workers don't get fired.
posted by smackfu at 9:57 AM on December 30, 2005


Personally I don't think companies have anything to gain by getting into informal blog dialog. It's impractical to respond to everything and only popping in here and there to make vaguely boilerplate statements would likely inflame more than calm.
posted by phearlez at 10:03 AM on December 30, 2005


We, I mean I feel that this is merely a minor hiccup in our I mean the airline's normally excellent service. You should all feel perfectly safe booking your flights on Alaska Airlines®, and I would feel this way even if I weren't a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines®, which I'm not.

By the way, this is a nice little community you got here. Shame if something were to happen to it.
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 10:05 AM on December 30, 2005


looking over those comments, all i can say is that i anticipate that monkeys will type hamlet in 2006 ...
posted by pyramid termite at 10:10 AM on December 30, 2005


I laugh that every mention of the worker who hit the plane emphasises "non-union"

purportedly, it's relevant because the airline has recently fired all of it's unionized baggage handlers and replaced them with a contracted firm which uses non-unionized employees.
posted by quonsar at 10:28 AM on December 30, 2005


blog entry concerning alaska airlines ip addresses.
posted by 3.2.3 at 10:28 AM on December 30, 2005


"Personally I don't think companies have anything to gain by getting into informal blog dialog."
"40. Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die."
posted by klarck at 10:39 AM on December 30, 2005


I laugh that every mention of the worker who hit the plane emphasises "non-union"

I'm assuming that in this case 'non-union' is implicitly being equated with lower paid, shorter term, and less skilled. Bumping a plane with a baggage cart involves a judgement call; do you want to be responsible for a flight cancellation and a de-planing, if it's 'just a bump'? Presumably the longer you have been on the job the better you get at making such judgements - and in the case of a unionized workplace, the more likely you are to be surrounded by others with similar levels of service, experience, and knowledge.
posted by carter at 10:42 AM on December 30, 2005


I doubt these are officially sanctioned comments by the airline. At most companies pulling a stunt like this from a company IP would put your job at risk.
posted by caddis at 10:44 AM on December 30, 2005


Would you rather have a company that reached out to disgruntled customers, or pushed them away?

Is this even a question? Of course I want to be pushed away whenever I complain!
posted by scarabic at 10:55 AM on December 30, 2005


I doubt these are officially sanctioned comments by the airline. At most companies pulling a stunt like this from a company IP would put your job at risk. - caddis

I share your doubt. It's pretty stupid of them to do it from work, assuming that's what's happening here.
posted by raedyn at 11:02 AM on December 30, 2005


what's a little hole in your plane's fuselage -- if that's the small price to pay for some freedom-loving union busting, so be it.
posted by matteo at 11:06 AM on December 30, 2005


These companies should be serving their customers with the expectation that each and every one of them is going to go online and post a high profile review.

In an ideal world, yup. Every business would treat each and every one of its customers as if that customer might possibly be an undercover representative from Consumer Reports.
posted by Gator at 11:16 AM on December 30, 2005


I'm assuming that in this case 'non-union' is implicitly being equated with lower paid, shorter term, and less skilled.

In this case, it also equates with "recently hired".

Bumping a plane with a baggage cart involves a judgement call; do you want to be responsible for a flight cancellation and a de-planing, if it's 'just a bump'?>

Jesus Christ, I do hope that bumping a plane does not involve a judgement call on the part of a recently hired, lower paid, shorter term, and less skilled employee. No breaks here: that guy could have been responsible for 140 deaths. I don't know the last time someone was prosecuted for criminal negligence that caused a commercial airline death, but I'd seriously consider it here.
posted by dhartung at 11:19 AM on December 30, 2005


The strangest thing about all this is that the post would have gone by with some mild notice, due to the author being a pilot and having some images from a flight that doesn't happen every day.

But then the rogue employee going off half-cocked is what really made it into a story. I didn't see the original post as negative towards Alaska Air (which I fly all the time and like), but their response certainly turned things in a negative direction.
posted by mathowie at 11:35 AM on December 30, 2005


To clarify - it involved an *initial* judgement call inasmuch as the worker had to tell someone what had happened, and for whatever reasons, he didn't. If he had 'fessed up then presumably someone else would have made the actual decision.
posted by carter at 11:37 AM on December 30, 2005


This brings up a larger question, though. What should companies do when their products or services fail, and consumers (almost inevitably) discuss it in a public forum? Jeff Jarvis' Dell incident comes to mind. In that link, he mentions Dell's no talking to customers on blogs policy.

This Alaska Airlines crap is exactly why companies have these sorts of policies. Despite the fact that these people are trying to defend their employer, they're doing more harm than good. This is why companies have PR people.
posted by me & my monkey at 11:43 AM on December 30, 2005


It looks like the blog's comments have been heavily edited. Almost all posts mentioning bad stuff coming from Alaska's IP space seem to have been removed. At this point, there is little reason to read anything past the original blog entry. The really interesting part seem to have been excised.

Hopefully that will save some time for a few folks.
posted by Malor at 11:44 AM on December 30, 2005


Video shot from on board the plane
posted by apocalypse miaow at 12:37 PM on December 30, 2005


Living in Seattle, and having just flown back into town on Alaskan, I was a bit unnverved by all the local coverage of the incident when I first turned on the TV 'round here, especially since, as I was waiting to de-plane from my flight wednesday, I noticed the guy driving the baggage-ramp-thingy make what seemed like a half-dozen approach/back-up manouvers at what seemed like dangerous speed, to me, before finally getting things lined up as he wanted.

Current local-news says that he will NOT face any criminal charges, but that the FAA is still investigating.
posted by nomisxid at 12:43 PM on December 30, 2005


Actually, Malor, he separated out all the comments coming from Alaska Air IP addresses and placed them in this post.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:53 PM on December 30, 2005


Link to today's USA Today story about the controversy. Inside that story:

"Amanda Tobin, a spokeswoman for the airline, said the company "has not provided any official comments" to Hermann's blog. It is the airline's policy, she said, "that employees should only use company computers for company business." No decision has been made on whether the airline will look into if any of its employees sent disparaging comments to Hermann's blog, she said."

And yesterday's...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:03 PM on December 30, 2005


Oh, dear. Wouldn't it be funny if the IT department at Alaska Airlines found out who posted the lame comments on that blog, and "Ralph" and his orthographically challenged friends got into trouble?
posted by pracowity at 1:51 PM on December 30, 2005


I like the comments that go:

"Yeah, well you DIDN'T SMELL AVGAS BURNING YOU KNOWLEDGE-IMPAIRED FREAK!"

I'll be sure to yell that in a similar situation.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 2:21 PM on December 30, 2005


About the non-union vs union.
At YVR Alaska and West Jet used to use a non-union company (world wide flight services) for all this sort of stuff, but they had many problems with hitting planes with stuff, and not reporting it (damage was found when the plane landed at LAX). Alaska now uses a union company (GlobeGround) which has a much better safety record.

This is probably because they have slightly less turnover, and even if the union employee did hit something they probably wouldnt get fired if they reported it.
posted by Iax at 4:09 PM on December 30, 2005


I used to work as a ramp agent for a ground handling company at SEA and dealt with Alaska on a near daily basis. The Alaska Airlines people were a great bunch of folks that cared about their jobs and enjoyed what they did. I left Seattle in 1998 and lost touch with the people I knew up there, but it still sucked to read that they terminated basically all of the ground crew and replaced them with non-union hourly folks. That basically says "We just want to save money. Fark the employees." And sadly, it's pretty true. For an hourly job that requires being outdoors in less than stellar conditions, what incentive do employees have besides the low-wage paycheck? Not a lot. The union employees had a lot more to lose, and they knew that the better the job they did, the better the airline would perform. (At least that's the impression that I got from them)

Anyway, I don't see the "union" vs "non-union" comment to be a really bad one. It's just a sad state of affairs when basically all of the lower level employees are seen as easily replaceable drones by overpaid executives.
posted by drstein at 7:25 PM on December 30, 2005


I sure hope Alaskan don't handle their aircraft maintenance like they handle their PR.
posted by normy at 10:28 PM on December 30, 2005


Well, normy, maintenance was not handled so great in 2000.
posted by Scram at 2:07 AM on January 2, 2006


Big Business' Eye on Blogs
"Online word of mouth has a powerful effect on product sales. Corporate America is keeping a close watch."
posted by ericb at 10:40 AM on January 3, 2006


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