MH370: Relearning Crisis Communications

On March 8, 2014 at 1:30am local time, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370), flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China, carrying 12 crew members and 227 passenger disappeared one hour after take off.

Investigations to date have just opened a Pandora’s box of questions with hardly any concrete answers; and in all this, Malaysian Airlines & authorities are being flacked with massive criticism about how they have been handling public communications about the incident.

“While the airline jumped into action through public relations and social media, many of its statements have been cryptic and confusing. The company’s erratic response opened the door to speculation from countless voices across news outlets, blogs and social media.” states the Sachs Media Group website.

While the Malaysian blogger Unspun gives the company a general thumbs up on the crisis communication; New Zealand Herald noted that the Malaysian government and the airline released imprecise, incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate information and were unable to deal with foreign media.

Fact is Malaysia Airlines has absolutely no control of the situation. Truth mixed with rumors is rampantly making rounds and the airline brand suffers a blow, which could have been better managed, by following some of the steps outlined below:

  • Timely Communication: Immediate, proactive and informative digital response from the airline is what is needed these days. Instead of waiting to put together an official statement to release, Malaysian Airlines should have opted use its social platforms and sent out updates to help avoid initial panic and confusion. Official statements can follow!
Notice how long before the plane is missing did Malaysian Airlines first statement came out?

Notice how long before the plane has been missing did Malaysian Airlines first statement came out?

  • Address Speculation: In today’s fast paced, connected times, it is difficult to control the conversations around a crisis. The smart approach would be to use the social world to the airline’s advantage – listen to what is being said about the crisis and be prepared to use the same platform to share your news and address any rumors.
What happened to MH370?

What happened to MH370?

  • Regularly Share Updates: Once a crisis has occurred, airlines need to keep sharing information about every action they are taking – no matter how trivial. This not only puts the airline in a controlling position in the communications cycle, but also gives out the message that the airline is on top of the situation.  
  • Channel Information Flow: Sadly with MH370, official communication is slow; contradictions keep coming up between what the airline is saying and what the Malaysian authorities report; questions remain unanswered and rumors are rampant. The incident needed a centralized spokesperson and all the channels pointing to a singular point of information.
  • Handling the Grieving Family Members: The priority in the chaos should always be the family & friends of the passengers. Keep the relatives in the same area and have airline representatives on hand to offer support. Brief them before the media, be transparent, caution them about the speculation that will inevitably arise and tell them what to expect in the coming days and protect them from the media onslaught.
  • Establish A #Hashtag: A hashtag helps track of the online conversation about an incident, especially to correct major facts as fast as possible to save the conversation from going haywire. In their defense, Malaysian Airline did use the tag #MASAlert on their posts – but by the time their posts came out, most of the conversation was already happening on the hashtags #MH370 or #PrayForMH370 - and everyone but Malaysian Airlines owns the conversation!


Meanwhile, this Sydney Morning Herald article argues that “the Malaysia Airlines’ reputation and brand is unlikely to be significantly damaged by the disappearance of Flight MH 370” – nonetheless, best time to learn from a public relations and crisis communication case study is while its all happening!

About Samra Muslim


  1. nice one Samra…

  2. A little sympathy here:)…With more than 2 dozen countries involved, no one source of information, CNN discussing it almost 24-7 and countries coming up from the Maldives to the seas of Australia, it was an impossible and already lost cause. Yes the families could possibly be managed better.

  3. S. Waqas Kazmi says:

    Nice points Samra. you raised good points which had to be covered at early stages of crisis. i think they have learned and doing the things in a subtle way now. But yes, the damaged is done.

  4. I find, lack of communication of Airline authorities from the first minute, the time when this incident took place public and foreign (international) authorities should have been clearly informed, so defiantly someone could have find something informative. So delay was to hide the failure which has now become the whole fiasco. Just my thought

  5. I dont think its fair to MH to compare a “normal” crisis situation with this one when it continues to baffle the countries and organizations far more advanced than MH. The crisis is larger than MH now involving Malaysian, Chinese, Russian and US governments and military still having no concrete theory, let alone proof of what actually happened.

  6. Jahangir Qadar says:

    I could be wrong, but my personal opinion: given the mysterious circumstances, i would say Malaysian airline did a good job. It is easy to criticise but if all the information that you have is purposefully being setup or being sabotaged, what are you going to do?

    Twenty six countries are taking part in a search effort of an area that far accedes any comparison of a pin in a hay stack.

    World powers with infinite computing powers are looking at satellite imagery and flight data and are still clueless, how would you single out an airline with its limited resources?

    In such insidents a lot of miss information always spread and to control that you do not put out all the information when it is still trickling in (half baked). As you rightly said it needed a centralized person to make the information public, but it’s not Airlines fault if the government wants to jump in and start making statements.

    If you look at the protocol that is followed in such incidents, Malaysian Air followed it to the letter.

  7. Zainab Ansari says:

    Good analysis Samra. I keep repeating in my crisis communication training that nature abhors vacuum – if you leave space someone else will fill it – hence all the speculations, some more ridiculous than the other.

Hey ... would love it if you share your thoughts here....

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