Worst Crisis Communication in 2014 – Flight MH370

Malaysian transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein at a news conference

Firstly,  I want to express my deeply sorrow for the people who passed away in the air crash.

The tragic mystery surrounding the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has captured the airwaves worldwide since 8th March. As the story has changed in real time since then, there can’t be many communicators who haven’t looked at what’s happening and wondered how on earth they’d handle such an unprecedented crisis situation.

Unfortunately,due to the poor handling and misinformation, Malaysia Airlines’s PR team have been much slammed for the public relations over the incident. As a matter of fact, it as one of the worse examples of crisis management ever seen.

MH370 relatives

relatives holds a plate says “we need truth”

Here are some fault they made in the crisis communication:

The airline took too long to let the public know the plane was missing and has appeared to be withholding information

Waiting until after the plane was due to land before announcing that it was missing appears to have been a mistake. The airline’s response has been that first it wanted to ensure that families were personally informed and cared for and that it wanted to secure as many facts as possible before announcing. These are both noble and also traditional approaches but in an always on world of rolling news and digital media, they were not seen as acceptable.

The airline and the authorities have been defensive and speculation rife

In a high profile situation like this, the media machine and the public crave information. Experts provide opinion and when there is a deficit of facts, speculation fills the void. From the stories of passengers who checked in but did not board to the pilot’s political affiliations, news channels, websites and social media have picked up and followed these trails. This has meant that most of the 20 media statements have had to include some form of denial or clarification.

There is no resolution

This is the central tragedy of the situation. For the most part, Malaysia Airlines and the country’s government have adhered to the first of the ‘R’s of crisis aftermath – Regret. But as yet, the ‘Reason’ is still unknown and there can be no ‘Recovery’ without finding that plane.

“Malaysia Airlines has not taken on an external agency to help with its handling of the crisis. However, it does have a handful of agencies around the world from which it could seek advice, such as Perowne Charles Communications in the UK, headed by former global communications director at Virgin Atlantic Paul Charles.” said by Brooke, whose agency Rooster handled Malaysia Airlines’ UK consumer PR in 2008-09.

although it is a  extreme circumstance but it’s no doubt that many more  measures could have been taken to give more control in this very difficult situation.

Anyway, here’s hoping that there is some news very soon.


Analysis: Malaysia Airlines’ mishandled response to the MH370 crisis

MH370: Inmarsat hints Malaysia delayed data on plane’s location

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: now the plane is ‘lost’, what next?

Further Reading:

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

MH370 Flight Incident

Flight MH370, crisis public relations and social media

Crisis Communications – Malaysia Airlines and the missing MH370