As veterans of airline industry PR who worked on, among other things, a pilots’ strike, slowdowns and disruptions caused by disgruntled flight attendants and mechanics and full airplanes stuck in snowdrifts for hours, we can sympathize and empathize with whomever is facing the media on behalf of Spirit Airlines today.
We can imagine the punch to the gut when hearing that they have to announce the airline is going to start charging customers $100 to “stow a bag in the overhead compartment.” As usual, it’s a decision made by executives in a conference room that PR people have to deal with out in the “real world.” Inevitably, it will be branded a “PR problem,” even though PR is just the face of the problem. That’s especially true in the airline business, which tends to be unpopular and unprofitable, creating constant communications challenges.
What we’re seeing here is consistent with what we’re seeing across industries and across the country in analyzing corporate PR. It’s just not a priority for top executives. They get retained and bonused based on “hitting numbers.” It’s really all about the finances, typically in the short-term. In this case, Spirit’s top management threw PR out the window (and under the bus, to use two apropos cliches) and focused squarely on the only thing that matters to keeping their jobs – making the money for the company that they’re supposed to make.
Until top corporate execs are evaluated on corporate reputation, this type of obvious disregard for PR will continue. Unless public backlash is so strong that it affects revenue and threatens the jobs of key executives, expect the $100 rule to stand.