An Airline’s Transgression – And The Resulting PR Fallout

Mar 11, 2014

In today’s business culture, many professionals struggle with being a successful businessperson and still having a soul. If you’re anything like Dan Cathy, President and COO of Chick-fil-A, you might know what we’re talking about. American Airlines ends bereavement fares

Just a couple weeks ago, the Dalai Lama himself addressed the topic of corporate life and compassion in front of a group of 4,000 Silicon Valley executives and motivated students at Santa Clara University.  Speaking on a panel with SCU President Michael Engh and Dignity Health CEO Lloyd Dean about “Incorporating Ethics and Compassion into Business Life,” this Tibetan inspiration left current and future industry leaders with the following words of advice:

“If you forget about others’ happiness, you (and your company) will suffer more.”

Cue: American Airlines.

Despite having (in my opinion) the most annoying delays ever, American Airlines has historically been one of the leading airlines in the United States and abroad for it’s low prices, frequent flights and accommodating schedules. After its latest partnership with U.S. Airways, however, this avid traveler’s equivalent of the “girl next door” is now changing her tune on one mantra that previously made her a tad more credible than others: bereavement fares.

Bereavement or “compassion” fares are special airline discounts that take a small percentage off last minute flights for customers traveling due to a family member’s emergency medical problem or death. In line with U.S. Airways practices – and other airlines, many of which have eliminated this option in recent years – American Airlines made a statement that, as of February 18, 2014, they will no longer offer these price breaks. To try and make up for it, Matt Miller, Corporate Communications Manager for the 80 year-old flight carrier, spoke on behalf of the company by saying: American Airlines “remains committed to doing all they can to relieve the burden of travel for our customers in times of need – and will continue to offer changeable and refundable options with the ability to apply future reservations to bereavement travel without change fees.”

And that’s fine. But is it enough?

Let’s not ask the poor college student scrambling for a flight home because her grandmother just passed away.

How do you feel about American Airlines’ recent announcement? Claims have been made that bereavement fares were rarely less expensive than published last minute flights anyway. Does that make it any better? Is it too much to ask for companies to have a little compassion for the people who keep them in business?

I think His Holiness would have something to say about this – he might call it: “self centered.”

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