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Singapore Airlines holds brand sentiment steady despite turbulence crisis

Singapore Airlines holds brand sentiment steady despite turbulence crisis

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The last few days have been trying for Singapore Airlines, passengers and crew members aboard flight SQ321 which experienced sudden and extreme turbulence over the Irrawaddy Basin about 10 hours after taking off from London. The pilot then declared a medical emergency and landed in Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Airport where it was discovered that there were multiple injuries and one fatality. 

The situation has undoubtedly resulted more negative online sentiments with 30.6% positive and 42.6% negative, according to media intelligence firm CARMA. 

However, the negative sentiments were not directed towards the airline's service and response, but instead, focus on the situation which involved a death and injuries, said Divika Jethmal, head of marketing, Asia at CARMA. 

Netizens also posted their concerns about passenger safety and the maintenance of older aircrafts such as the Boeing 777 which was the affected plane, SQ321’s, aircraft model, she added. 

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According to communications experts MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to, there are several key factors as to why SIA as a brand hasn’t been significantly impacted by the recent tragedy. 

Firstly, Singapore Airlines (SIA) has built a longstanding reputation for excellence in safety, service, and overall customer experience, said Alex Chan, head of brand, marketing and communications at Geneco Singapore. This strong brand equity means that customers have a high level of trust and loyalty towards the airline, which can act as a buffer in times of crisis. 

"Secondly, the lack of immediate, clear information about the incident plays a significant role. With limited details available and thankfully, no mass fatalities, people tend to reserve judgement until more information is released," said Chan, adding:

This period of uncertainty allows the brand’s established positive image to hold sway over public perception.

Additionally, SIA’s proactive communication and transparency also contributed to maintaining trust," said Chan. "If the airline continues to handle the situation with much care, empathy, and responsibility, it reassures the public that their passengers is their top priority," he explained. 

True enough, much of the positive comments from netizens are coming from SIA's frequent and extensive updates on Facebook and X as well as from a prompt and front-facing address of the incident by the airline's CEO, Goh Choon Phong.

In a video posted yesterday, Goh addressed the incident in a video, laid out the facts of the incident before saying:

We are very sorry for the traumatic experience that everyone on board SQ321 went through.

Goh added that the airline was "deeply saddened" by the incident and that the airline would like to express its deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the deceased. 

"Our priority is to render all possible assistance to our passengers and crew members," he said. 

Goh coming out to speak directly to the public and those impacted as well as SIA's updates and prompt decision to send relief teams, flights and offer significant support also raises expectations of the airline, according to Chan. 

"The public will be closely watching how SIA continues to manage the aftermath of this incident, including the findings of the ongoing investigation and any subsequent action taken," said Chan, adding:

Its response can either reinforce the trust they’ve earned or, if mishandled, lead to criticism.

Meanwhile, Edwin Yeo, general manager at Strategic Public Relations Group praised the airline which has always handled crisis comms well. 

"SIA has always showed empathy and sensitivity, so it's no surprise that they have yet again handled this exceptionally," he said. He added that he is also sure that the positive response to the brand has less to do with the fact that it is a trusted brand but rather, that it has always genuinely shown care and concern when a crisis occurs. 

"You also need to factor in that this was an unusual event, and you can't really blame the airline for something which has rarely ever happened," said Yeo. "The pilots and the company both did all the right things and did their best to mitigate the crisis. Generally, people can see and appreciate that, even as they are alarmed by the incident."

Staying ahead of speculation 

Adding to his point, Jose Raymond, managing director of SW Strategies said that turbulence is widely recognised as an uncontrollable aspect of flying, which is possibly one of the reasons why the response has not been targeted at the airline.

"Many comments on social media also praised the pilots and crew in how they dealt with the crisis. A circulating photo of a cabin crew with a bloodied nose also showed the realities of the situation. That hit home," explained Raymond, adding that the airline was also quick to extinguish rumors that there was a second fatality. 

"Combined with timely, transparent communication on all major channels, SIA managed to keep the public informed and assured, staying ahead of any undue negative speculation and upholding its brand reputation as a world-class carrier," added Raymond Lau, partner at Eastwest Public Relations. 

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