Each Receives $5,000 For Personal Property Losses
US Airways launched what could be considered a preemptive strike
this week... on both the public relations and, perhaps, legal
fronts. The airline -- which, it would be fair to say, is basking
in the good publicity brought about by
last week's successful ditching of Flight 1549 in the
Hudson River -- announced Tuesday it will send $5,000
to each of the 150 passengers who were onboard the stricken
According to USA Today, the money is to help tide those
passengers over financially while the airline works to return
personal effects that went down with the ship, as it were. For the
moment, those items are under the authority of the National
Transportation Safety Board, as it conducts its investigation into
why the Airbus A320 lost engine power January 15.
"We anticipate that the delay the investigation causes may
present an inconvenience and expense for you," writes Kerry F.
Hester, VP of reservations and customer service planning, in a
letter to the passengers. "We want to do our best to ensure that
you do not incur personal expense or hardship while the
investigation continues. To assist you with your immediate needs,
we have enclosed a check for $5,000."
Passengers can expect to be without any personal items they left
onboard the plane for at least two months, and probably longer. As
part of the NTSB's investigative process, all items must be weighed
in their current (read, wet) state, then dried out for eight weeks
and weighed again.
The $5,000 checks are the airline's latest PR-friendly gesture
to passengers onboard Flight 1549, who walked away from the water
landing with mostly minor injuries.
While the investigation is ongoing, the general consensus so far
is that an encounter with a massive flock of birds choked off power
in both engines as the jetliner climbed through 3,000 feet after
takeoff from New York LaGuardia, and that Capt. Chesley "Sully"
Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles skillfully guided the
plane to a safe ditching in the Hudson.
The successful outcome of Flight 1549 will be talked about for
years, and it has cast the otherwise beleaguered US Airways in a
favorable light with the general public and aviation community
alike. It has also posed something of a unique public relations
quandary for the carrier, however... as airlines are typically
better prepared to handle more serious aviation accidents, when it
comes to liability and PR matters.
By comparison, responding to the needs of passengers following a
successful (and highly-visible) accident is uncharted territory. In
Airline Biz Blog, Dallas Morning News reporter
Terry Maxon notes US Airways can't fall back on the old standard of
"our thoughts and prayers are with the families" of those onboard
1549... since, well, everyone lived.
Conversely, the airline can't tout the successful outcome,
either. First of all, to do so would be rather
uncouth... but such an attitude could also open the
airline to possible legal action, if the NTSB's investigation
reveals the airline may have shared some responsibility for the
accident after all.
If that happens, those $5,000 checks wouldn't shield US Airways
from potential lawsuits... though they may help guard the
carrier's image in the court of public opinion.