American Airlines offers tepid apology after booting cellist from plane – Info PR
The airline removed a Chicago-bound cellist and her $30,000 instrument
after changing its mind about the appropriateness of carrying the large
instrument on a Boeing 737 aircraft. The airline does allow oversized
instruments to fly in the cabin, provided they have their own seat and meet
certain weight limitations.
Cellist JingJing Hu followed the rules to the letter, only to be removed
from her flight and prevented from boarding another.
3 helpful tips for your crisis comms prep]
The airline booked her on a bigger aircraft for the next day, but not
before Hu’s husband Jay Tang had taken to Facebook to denounce American’s
treatment of his spouse:
The post was shared more than 2,000 times, and constantly updated to
reflect the latest actions of the airline.
Some responded to the post with criticism for the airline:
Others found the complaint tiresome:
One common cause of any airline crisis is the removal of a seated passenger
from an aircraft. Such was the case with United Airlines when security
guards were called to remove a passenger,
resulting in a damaging PR crisis
after the passenger was dragged from the plane.
Inc. covered the play-by-play of the cello incident:
[Hu was removed] was just before the plane’s doors were about to close.
Yes, she was already on the plane, having been through all the palaver of
security. She was also allowed to pre-board and says she had been given a
belt by cabin crew to strap the cello in securely.
Worse, as she was escorted off the plane, her cello allegedly brushed the
pilot. He apparently felt hurt by this.
She took a picture of him as he displayed what some might take as a V for Victory sign, as Hu was ushered away.
The airline insists he was signaling to ground staff that there were now
two free seats on the plane. Airlines rarely miss a money-making
opportunity, do they?
Could that have played a role here? The two seats were quickly filled.
American Airlines called the incident a “miscommunication,” perhaps hoping
to downplay the impact of the mistake. However, Hu and her husband weren’t
ready to go quietly.
American Airlines told NBC 5 in a statement there was a “miscommunication”
about whether the cello met the requirements to fit onboard the aircraft.
“We apologize for the misunderstanding and customer relations will be
reaching out to her,” the statement read.
A tearful Hu finally made it back to Chicago Friday where her husband, Jay
Tang, was waiting.
“I don’t think we did anything wrong here and I think the way they handled
it was humiliating,” Tang said.
On Twitter, some musicians slammed the airline and promised to look
elsewhere for travel accommodation:
Dear @AmericanAir, this is inexcusable behavior that requires reparation. Kicking someone out who bought two full fares for herself and her cello and filling the seats with two other passengers makes no sense. As a fellow cellist, I know now never to fly with American. https://t.co/2ffA7c5VBp
— Nathan Chiu (@nathan_chiu) August 3, 2018
Can you tell us what happened here @AmericanAir? Do cellists need to stay way from your airline? American Airlines kicks a cellist and her cello off a flight: https://t.co/i8AlBGt5ae
— Zoe Keating (@zoecello) August 5, 2018
Others were ready to write off the airline completely:
Shame on you @AmericanAir to kick off musician Jingjing Hu and her cello off your flight and treated her badly just because YOU OVERSOLD your flight. Will spread news of this horrible incident with all the people I know and never fly with you again.
— lalala (@gaberil748) August 5, 2018
Why does @AmericanAir hate its customers? Now they boot a student for flying with a cello that had it’s own ticket? Absurd. I used to love US Airways, but not after the merger. I fly ALOT, at least 1 RT per week. Not on American!
— Dan Bartlett (@therealdanbar) August 4, 2018
Some noted that American Airlines has a history of offering poor service to cellists:
The airline humiliated another cellist in just the same way just last year, but apparently has not learned how to improve. https://t.co/cDnPy3o6B7
— Dean Barker (@deanbarker) August 5, 2018
Here are three lessons from American Airlines’ PR debacle:
Make sure your guidelines are easy to follow.
The “miscommunication” explanation offered by the airline hinges on whether
an airline employee understood the difference between a cello and a double
bass, two different instruments that bear some resemblance but are quite
different in actual size.
Hu said a flight attendant approached her before the airplane doors closed
and told her she would have to leave the plane, as the aircraft was too
small for the cello.
After she deplaned, Hu asked to see the regulations for traveling with a
cello. She said they handed her a printout indicating that “bass
violins/fiddles” are not permitted on a 737. Hu said the cello is not a
bass violin or fiddle.
The guidelines employees were following required them to correctly identify
a musical instrument instead of offering simple weight and size rules for
oversized baggage. Keep your rules of engagement simple and don’t rely on
general knowledge for proper enforcement.
Take your conflict resolution offline.
Though not everyone was concerned with Hu’s plight, many found the story
compelling—and social media provides everyone a platform. You cannot ignore
disgruntled customers and expect the blowback to remain local.
If a customer is dissatisfied, offer recourse through your organization
instead of pushing them to vent on social media when they feel unheard.
Take care when placing blame on “miscommunication.”
At best, offering miscommunication as an excuse for poor performance is
akin to admitting you are bad at your job. It also can look like you are
ascribing blame to your customers for being too dumb to comprehend your
As reported by the Independent, American Airlines’
crisis response statement
“A passenger on flight 2457 from Miami to Chicago was travelling with her
“Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication about whether the cello she
was travelling with met the requirements to fit on board the particular
aircraft she was flying, a Boeing 737.
“We rebooked our passenger on a flight the next morning on a larger
aircraft, a Boeing 767. We provided her a hotel and meal accommodations for
“We apologise for the misunderstanding and customer relations has reached
out to her.”
The apology does not admit wrongdoing on the part of the airline and could
seem to imply that the passenger was to blame for the mix-up. Though it
might be tempting to avoid taking the blame, organizations that put the
onus for a good relationship on their customers risk alienating the people
whose purchases pay the bills.
What do you think of American Airlines’ PR crisis response, PR Daily readers?
Article Prepared by Ollala Corp