Southwest Flight 1380: A Study in Tragedy, Perception, and Sales

Most recently, airlines seem to be increasingly grabbing the attention of both media and society. Are the reports of the fatal Southwest Airlines flight indicative that airplanes are unsafe flying death machines? Should we not trust corporations to take us through the air when the remainder of transportation besides cars are handled by the public sector? At the end of the day, the answer to both of these questions remains no; however, a tragedy certainly occurred on Southwest Flight 1380, and lessons should be learned.

On April 17th, during a Southwest flight, one of the engine blades broke off and destroyed the entire engine. This lead to shrapnel flying towards the plane, breaking windows, and injuring passengers. One passenger, Jennifer Riordan, got sucked out of the plane and sustained injuries that would eventually take her life.

Airplanes, against popular sentiment, are remarkably safe forms of transport: in 2016, there were 37,000 deaths by car in America alone, compared to zero by air travel. That’s right! Zero people die on average per one million miles flown, and the death that occurred on flight 1380, though terribly devastating, represents the exception, not the rule. In fact, this is the first passenger death to occur on a U.S. plane in nine years. Yet, Southwest will not be unaffected by this tragedy.

This upsetting reality comes at a time when the airline industry has been dealing with increasing fuel prices and public scandals like United Airlines’ controversy over its forceful removal of a passenger on an overbooked flight. Of course, these all converge into a poor picture for airlines and airplane travel, but what Southwest can recognize, more than anyone else, is how perception drives business. Through a halting of their advertising, in order to respect the loss of Riordan’s life, Southwest already expects to see reductions in revenues for this quarter. Also, as Southwest largely relies on its positive brand loyalty and unique culture, extending to its non-assigned seating and humorous flight attendants, this hit to its perception and brand may sting particularly strongly for this Dallas headquartered airline.

Overall, air transportation remains one of, if not the safest, mode of travel, and the grand misfortune of Flight 1380 has brought Southwest to reevaluate its blade and engine inspection procedure, ensuring that another catastrophe does not occur. These challenges to the status quo of the air travel industry are generally bettering, and naturally, it would be ideal if tragedies or controversies did not have to occur to see these improvements come to fruition. Now, it is up to you, the consumer, to decide who deserves your business and if the airline industry can be trusted in the wake of these scandals.

Sources: Forbes, CNN Money, The Wall Street Journal