Alaska Airlines Struggles to Respond to Crisis

Article by Brittany Carpenter | esPResso Committee Member

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Alaska Airlines recently learned an important lesson about the power of social media.

On Monday, April 6, Elizabeth Sedway was forced to leave an Alaska Airlines flight from Hawaii to California right before takeoff after claiming she felt “weak” when she was boarding the plane.  Sedway, a 51-year-old cancer patient, was told that she would need a doctor’s note ensuring it was safe for her to fly regardless of the fact that she had flown to Hawaii in the first place.

Sedway posted a video of herself and her family being escorted off the airplane on Facebook, along with an explanation of her side of the incident. In the video, Sedway said that she felt like she was being treated “like a criminal” or like she “was contagious” simply because she did not have a note to fly. She emailed her oncologist during this exchange, who confirmed that she was cleared for flying, but the airline still refused.

Her removal caused a minor delay for the plane, and Sedway and her family was watched by a full audience aboard the aircraft.  Within hours of being posted, the video received more than 65,000 views and was featured on several national news channels including Fox, CBS and NBC.

In an interview with NBC, Sedway said of Alaska Airlines, “You can’t be so concerned about your corporate image or liability that you end up treating people so poorly.” Sedway has been battling multiple myeloma for the past five years and has never had a previous issue flying throughout the course of her treatment. Although she was able to take a flight the following day, missing her initial flight out of Hawaii caused her to miss a scheduled chemotherapy appointment for her treatment.

Alaska Airlines initially failed to refund Sedway and pay for her hotel expenses, as she had to stay overnight in Hawaii with her family until she could catch a flight the next day. However, after receiving media backlash, Alaska Airlines contacted Sedway to apologize.

A spokesperson from the airline told ABC news on Tuesday, April 7, “We regret the inconvenience Ms. Sedway experienced yesterday and are very sorry for how the situation was handled. Her family’s tickets have been refunded and we’ll cover the cost of her family’s overnight accommodations in Lihue. While our employee had the customer’s well-being in mind, the situation could have been handled differently.”

The statement from the airline was well intended but had they monitored their social media more closely they could have avoided having to make such a public apology. Had they also gotten in touch with Sedway’s doctor and acted in a faster manner, the whole incident could have avoided becoming so public. Sedway’s video proves the power that social media has over the reputation of companies and re-affirms the fact that companies have a short window of time to solve problems before they become major news stories.

Sedway herself is trying to stay positive about the situation. She announced on her Facebook page that she has donated the money that Alaska Airlines refunded her to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and that she hopes future situations like this will be handled with more “sensitivity.” While Alaska Airlines is reevaluating its customer service approach, Sedway is getting nothing but support across the internet.

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