United States

North Texas Based Airlines Try to Weather the Public Relations Storm After Max Fleets Grounded

Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have re-booked passengers on canceled flights

On the departures board at Dallas Love Field, passengers were prepared to see the word "canceled." Southwest Airlines canceled 39 flights scheduled for Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes Thursday. American Airlines operates 85 daily flights on the jet that is now grounded. Some passengers expected crowds at the airports.

"Because they're having to take all those people and find space for them," San Jose passenger Beth Boyer said. "And they did it because they were forced to by the FAA, so I don't trust Southwest, but that is what I fly."

Southwest pointed out that 95 percent of its total fleet was unaffected by the grounding.

"They're scrambling to figure this out and they will," San Jose passenger Lynn Darlington said. "But right now we don't need to be put on a plane that there's a question."

Crisis communications expert Merrie Spaeth of Spaeth Communications said both American and Southwest were doing a good job of communicating quickly, consistently and credibly.

"They're stressing safety," Spaeth said. "And that's the most important thing to do at this time,"

That message got muddled Wednesday when President Trump announced on Twitter that the MAX fleets would be grounded.

"It was a major stumble for the U.S. not only to be days behind the other countries," Spaeth said. "There could have been better coordination because at the same time they were saying, 'These places were going to be grounded,' there were these other voices (the airlines) out saying very publicly, 'Everything is fine, we have confidence.'"

Spaeth said the airlines should be focused on that "magic moment" when passengers and employees have personal interaction.

"Everybody on the floor has to remember when they're with a customer that they are American, or they are Southwest," Spaeth said. "That's really what makes the difference."

American said it was working to re-book passengers who were on MAX 8 planes.

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