Air India’s disaster

An aircraft overshoots a runway strip, killing almost everyone on board. But what it triggered is even more unfortunate. Conspiracy theories are floated, mostly in television; a possible human error is questioned from ridiculous angles till some obscure clue of negligence is discovered; and finally, TV news anchors declare the glaring faults of Air India almost with a satisfied smile.

This trial by the media is taking place primarily because Air India is a weak brand. It had been the whipping boy of the media for a while and this unfortunate incident allowed the fault finders to pounce on the brand once more. Let’s examine how the systematic destruction of the brand’s credibility over a period of time has led to this situation.

The Air India brand comes with the baggage of being state-run. And, very often, the perception of state apathy overshadows the better product offerings.

Often Air India has better planes, more timely service and better connectivity. But what is remembered are the apathetic crew, unfriendly hostesses and an overall lack of care. We happily attribute our frustration with the political and governmental system to all consumer-facing brands run by the state. And that always makes them soft targets. A single incident drives a few more nails in the brand’s coffin.

The second big issue with the Air India brand and the reason for the continued assault is the porous nature of the organization. Every bit of news is out there for public consumption. And the media takes the liberty to drive public opinion around it. We get to know which pilot went to take a leak, how many feet the aircraft descended, and we start to deride the brand and label it callous and irresponsible.

The next issue that’s looming large is one of disaster management. Every brand needs a strong PR management in the face of an adversity. The oft-quoted examples are Toyota and JetBlue, and how they reached out to people at the time of crisis. Against all this, what we hear from the Air India management is an officious ‘no comment’. Or even better, a bureaucratic one: “the matter is under investigation and we will be in a position to comment only after we ascertain the details”. One can almost see the safari suit behind the statement.

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