Asiana Airlines Crash Crisis Management 2.0 — Case Study and Analysis

My wife is a big fan of Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO. As she was browsing Facebook on her mobile yesterday, she exclaimed to me that Sheryl had almost boarded an Asiana flight that crashed in San Francisco. Upon hearing this, I quickly logged on to Twitter, and instinctively searched #SFOcrash. [push h=”14″]

And there it was, to my horror, live photos and updates of the burning fuselage. And updates coming from not just San Francisco, but all over the world about the crash that had happened halfway across the globe, just minutes prior. The good news was a large majority of the passengers were safe, and the crew had been extremely agile to ensure that injuries and fatalities remained as low as possible. [push h=”14″]


I sprung into action, and I knew I had to capture key information regarding the incident, as it happened. I coordinated with my team mate, Marco Serusi, and together we pieced together the key information on the Asiana Airlines Crash crisis management one-by-one to put together the following analysis from a crisis communications perspective. [push h=”14″]

Our key findings were:

  • The first tweet about the incident was sent out a mere 30 seconds after the crash. And this person was quoted over 4,000 times in the media in the next 24 hours.
  • Passengers were posting information not just on Twitter and Facebook, but also on Path and Sina Weibo.
  • A number of organisations, like San Francisco International Airport, the NTSB, Boeing and a few other airlines did a stellar job of keeping travellers updated of the latest situation.
  • Unfortunately, Asiana Airlines, with the world’s eyes set on it, was slow to respond and was far from satisfying the insatiable need for more information in the hours after the crash.
  • The lesson learnt is that social media needs to be an integral part of any crisis management plan for an airline or an airport today. There is no longer the luxury to respond in two hours, or even twenty minutes.
  • The savvy journalists are not waiting by their fax machine for an official press release, but are ready to quote Live accounts of passengers and bystanders being shared online. [push h=”16″]

If you are an airline or airport that feels the need to stay up to date with the latest crises management best practices, here are some resources:
1. Top 10 aviation crises management case studies
2. Aviation Crisis Management infographic
3. Royal Brunei Airlines emergency landing case study
4. Over 50 of SimpliFlying’s crisis management updates and articles
5. SimpliFlying in-house Crises Management MasterClass
If we can be of any help, with our consulting or training services, please feel free to get in touch.

  • Download the latest “SimpliFlying Airline Crisis Guide” – An overview of 6 types of airlines crises concerning social media, including real-world case studies from recent years.
  • Preview Crisis Communications Quarterly Report – An in-depth report of the 15 most important airline crises and disruptions from the latest quarter, assessing how they were handled, and how they could have been handled better.
Featured Image: From Washington Post.
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Showing 7 comments
  • RobertKCole

    Excellent (and timely) analysis that underlines the immediacy of information flow and the need for advance preparation for the unexpected.

    You did a great job with the social media aspect, but one of the most disappointing factors was the failure of US television journalists – especially the 24-hour news channels and local San Francisco television stations to successfully cover the story.

    Most amazingly, as with the Boston Marathon manhunt, US Cable news outlets were easily 30 minutes behind accurate reporting on Twitter.

    KVTO was reporting the plane came to a rest upside down, despite they had a photo published online of the remarkably undamaged (at that point) main fuselage resting upright.

    CNN broadcast uncorroborated “eyewitness” reports that the plane had “cartwheeled” down the runway and both wings had been severed. From the video I’ve seen, I can understand how someone over a mile away might make that judgement, but someone should have been aware of the photos published by David Eun over 30 minutes earlier…

    Sadly these news gathering organizations do not appear to have adapted to the age of social computing. Either mired in traditional process that delays reporting, or emboldened by a rush to bypass those processes and be the first to break a story – they seem to be missing out on both accounts.

    Even some CNN “expert” analysis was pathetic. CNN’s Richard Quest seemed to be ignoring his own channel’s reporting when he droned on about the fatal impact of smoke inhalation and burns to the passengers. While that is normally very true for most crashes, there was no indication that passengers were directly exposed to fire, suffering from smoke inhalation or burns.

    Sadly, Quest apparently ignored the social media passenger commentary and even a CNN first-hand passenger interview that stated the fire did not obstruct the passengers in the cabin until after almost all (including the injured) were evacuated.

    Fortunately, CNN reporting appeared to improve significantly when it started started posting images and comments from Twitter.

    Social media has permanently changed the nature of news reporting – now the news reporting groups need to adapt (although the newspaper beat reporters and journalism students/professors in Boston did an outstanding job with the apprehension of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

    • Shashank Nigam

      Firstly, thanks for your feedback Robert – I’m glad you found the analysis insightful. I wasn’t in the US to witness the account first hand, but what you share about the mainstream media lagging behind is not very comforting. I’d have thought since the likes of CNN are on top of all the tweets, folks like Richard Quest possibly have the most authentic first-hand accounts and cannot get it wrong. Perhaps not just the airlines, but also US cable news outlets can learn from this experience…

      • Pankaj Chopra

        Great and very novel inputs and analysis Shashank. Social media now will always be ahead of everybody and the earlier the operators realize it the better. Airlines no longer have the luxury of the 2-3 hours of fog where they got time to prepare their responses keeping commercial and image considerations in mind. Henceforth facts will be out in a jiffy. A word of caution though. Instant information leads to instant opinions and conclusions. This has a detrimental effect on subsequent investigations of accidents because the media has already helped the public make up its mind.

  • Peter

    Very good analysis, Shashank! Asiana were definitely caught on the back foot when it came to updates. The huge growth rates on their respective social media profiles is a warning for all businesses that regardless of what the CEO might think about social media, people today will flock to the official social media profiles to get answers. Failure to get answers will lead to speculation, rumours, negativity and ultimately resentment towards the brand.

    • Shashank Nigam

      Thanks Peter! Indeed, social media is the first go-to avenue for travellers today, and it’s a basic expectation that needs to be fulfilled by the Communications Depts over the world…

  • Suzane Mart

    That very true.

    Crisis management planning

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