Ben DiPietro, The Wall Street Journal’s Risk & Compliance Journal, August 22, 2016

Delta Air Lines finds itself in the crisis spotlight following a power failure that led to a crash of its computer network that prompted the cancellation of more than 1,000 flights on the first day alone, with around 1,000 more flights canceled on the second and third days of the event.

The company’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, apologized in a video statement and took full responsibility for the system meltdown, saying in a second video statement the snafu was a one-time event started by a power outage and a small fire. “We realize we’ve let our customers down,” said Mr. Bastian. The company provided updates, offered travelers $200 vouchers, waived flight-change fees and put hundreds of fliers up in hotels.

Using the statements made by the airline and the comments of Mr. Bastian, the experts evaluate how well Delta handled this crisis.

Davia Temin, chief executive, Temin and Co.: “Delta did not improve its reputation for trustworthiness with its early statements about its recent computer system crash causing thousands of cancelled flights. First, it said it had experienced a power outage but that was rebutted by local power authorities. Then it said there was a fire, but that small fire seemed not to be the full reason for such a broad-scale failure. Delta appeared to be more worried about minimizing its damage first, only [later] acknowledging the full severity of the situation–during which time social media was ablaze with customer rage and protest.

“Had Chief Executive Ed Bastian’s second video of explanation and apology–issued two days later–been his first, Delta would have been better off. That apology felt somewhat sincere. His earlier one seemed forced, badly edited and still in denial. Yet, even his later statement–’This isn’t who we are’–immediately rang false because furious flyers saw this was exactly who Delta had just been.

“We all know a company in crisis can’t find out all the details immediately, but in this kind of predictable crisis, Delta should have been far more prepared to apologize immediately, communicate what it did know incessantly, over-compensate those disadvantaged from the outset and take full responsibility in a non-trite way–no ‘The buck stops here’ nonsense.

“It needed to stay in the pain longer and explain what it was going to change so it wouldn’t happen again. And it needed to do this in a way that the public would believe them. Delta was far too eager to control the damage of this failure before, during and after it transpired–and in so doing may have exacerbated it.”

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