Sunday, September 09, 2007

Airline PR 101: Humiliate the Customer

Here is the wicked woman and her sinful outfit. (Photo from the San Diego Union-Tribune)


My jaw dropped.

Rather than apologizing for the actions of a nitwit customer-service agent/Taliban-trainee named Keith, Southwest Airlines appears to be piling on Kyla Ebbert, the 23-year-old the college student (and okay, let's get it over with: part-time Hooters waitress) who was humiliated on a Southwest Airlines airplane in San Diego by snippy Keith, who tried to throw her off because she was dressed inappropriately.

Keith made a public scene on the airplane to show his disapproval of her attire. "All of it," Keith the Fashion Cop replied when Ms. Ebbert asked what exactly was inappropriate.

(In the picture above, from the San Diego Union-Tribune, which first wrote about Ms. Ebbert's story, she is wearing the same outfit that gave poor delicate Keith the vapors).

Please see my previous post for a summary of the story.

On Friday, Ms. Ebbert appeared, wearing the infamous outfit, on the Today Show. A practically drooling, though sympathetic, Matt Lauer made a big point of having her stand to display her outfit and then sit down again on the couch -- as the camera was focused straight at her.

Oops! Viewers saw London, viewers saw France, viewers saw a flash of underpants before the poor young woman managed to cross her legs while the camera, and Today's millions of viewers, leeringly lingered on her.

Southwest Airlines, which maintains a happy-news "blog" by and for its happy employees on its happy Web site, made gleeful note of that, and piled on this woman, in my opinion.

Read it for yourself. Here is Brian Lusk, Southwest's manager of corporate communication, giddily linking to another smirky blog on the embarrassing MSNCB's Web site.

"You might be interested in the perspective of one of the show's producers, Dan Fleschner," chuckled the Southwest flack, helpfully supplying the links.

Flack Lusk (Sweet sufferin' Jayzus, the name becomes "LUST" if you change that K to a T!) is smirking because Today's cameras lingered on the woman's legs as she sat down on the couch -- thus proving that the shocking hussy deserved to be kicked off an airplane. [I have sat on that couch, by the way. It ain't comfortable even in a men's suit.]

In turn, MSNBC's Fleschner (on TV talk and morning shows, "producer" is usually defined as the personage who makes all those phone calls to line up people to come on the show) himself is all aflutter.

"She flashed our national audience," he reported breathlessly on Friday. "As we learned this morning, that skirt was indeed really short." Helpfully, MSNBC provided the video link to the Today Show segment to further embarrass Ms. Ebbert. (And yes, he used the word "indeed." In 2007.)

Hey, flash this, as Fleschner would have been told on my old block -- before the young woman's big brother pushed him down some steps prior to (indeed) resuming the conversation.

And hey, grow up, Southwest Airlines. And put a harness on Keith the Fashion Cop before he strikes again. And trust me, he will. Who died and appointed this Keith the arbiter of what you or I or our daughters or sons can wear? Have you seen the way some slobs dress on planes?

By the way, on an airplane Ms. Ebbert would not have been taking a seat on a couch on a stage with a camera focused full-body on her, as was the case on the Today Show. And also, a camera-shot is called by a director in a control room. It isn't accidental, and the problem presented in this instance occurs routinely on television talk shows, and is anticipated by directors.

In this case, my hunch is, the camera shot was deliberate. If they had tried the same stunt with a rich movie actress flogging a movie there would be hell to pay at 30 Rock.

Hey Today Show: Stop taking pictures up womens' skirts and posting them on skeezy! They're trying to pass a law against that kind of thing in New York City, by the way.

This piling-on, this sniggering virtual assault, on a 23-year-old woman who did nothing wrong except try to board a plane without being harassed is odious.

I am sure Ms. Ebbert can take care of herself (plus I did notice that she was accompanied by both her mother and a lawyer on the Today Show). But being publicly ambushed by an airline and a television network Web site has to be troublesome. Imagine the cretins who are already e-mailing her and finding her phone number.

(You think I'm kidding? Just scroll through some of the nasty comments from the mouth-breathers on the MSNBC blog that Southwest is so eager to refer its customers to).

A sample: "... so what if a trash young girl and her mom's feelings were hurt, so what???"

MSNBC and Southwest Airlines are okay with calling someone "trash?"

Southwest Airlines should be ashamed of itself. An apology to the customer is the required response, not smirky ridicule.

And Lusk the Flack should be frog-walked out front to make a separate personal apology to Ms. Ebbert -- and to Southwest's other customers. Especially the female customers, who know damn well what this is all about.


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