Tuesday, January 20, 2009

US Airways: We Weren't Pitching 'Hero Captain' Story

Under the general rule that no good deeds go unpunished, US Airways has taken a little heat for a perception that it has pitched Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III as the singular focus of the story about the amazing crash-landing and survival of all aboard on the Hudson last week.

In fact, let me say that a review of US Airways' media updates and press releases since the afternoon of the crash shows that 1. The airline was forthcoming, timely and useful in its statements. 2. The airline consistently made note of the entire crew and did not overtly single out the captain in its updates.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle, mostly created by the pilots' and flight attendants' unions, over the way Captain Sullenberger was presented in the media as the hero of the day, with almost no recognition given to the co-pilot and the three flight attendants whose skill, courage and level-headedness obviously were key to helping those 150 passengers (who were apparently also level-headed) get safely off that sinking airplane.

The unions blamed the media, but in recent posts I have groused that the basic problem was that detailed information on the co-pilot and flight attendants simply was not available to reporters on deadline. Sullenberger's CV, on the other hand, was readily available from the Web site of Safety Reliability, a company he had earlier formed to promote aviation safety. That's where the media also got the photo of Sullenberger that has been widely used.

Last Friday, the day after the event, US Airways CEO Doug Parker went to New York for a city ceremony honoring the first-responders -- the maritime workers of the New York harbor whose brilliant performance on the river also saved lives.

Here's what Parker said as regards the US Airways employees:

"I, like the rest of you, am extremely proud of our crew for their quick and heroic actions. Today they are safe and doing well, and along with so many other members of our team, are assisting with the official investigation, and they also extend their gratitude to all of the organizations I just mentioned."

A US Airways spokesman, Jim Olsen, said today that the airline's comments throughout have emphasized the role of the entire crew. The numerous timely US Airways updates on the accident -- starting within a half hour of the crash -- support that assertion, by the way.

"The language was very clear that we wanted to publicly thank the crew for their quick thinking," Olsen said. "We totally understand how the perception might be that we were trying to pitch him (Sullenberger). I can assure you 100 percent we have not been pitching this story at all. We have been very much in reactive mode" in handling press requests for interviews.

In fact, the first time US Airways mentioned Sullenberger was in a statement on Friday afternoon that provided the names, ages and some career background on the captain, the co-pilot and the three flight attendants.

Now, obviously, Sullenberger was the main guy who saved the day. If he had not managed to set that crippled airplane down so skillfully in the Hudson, and then with great aplomb overseen the evacuation from the plane, we would be talking today about a far different kind of story.

The other crew were overlooked because reporters knew almost nothing about them. An investigation is under way, and obviously the crew can't be holding press conferences.

But the unions could have been more on the ball last week and put some useful information about the crew. They could have released photographs, for example. I absolutely guarantee you, crew photos would have been prominently used in the news accounts.

Instead, they issued turgid proclamations that looked like they had been written by a committee and that contained no useful information. Now they're carping this week about how the media largely overlooked the other four crew members?


1 comment:

Tara said...

Hi, Joe! As a side note, I noted more then one news anchor explain that they would like to make mention of the rest of the crew, but there was no information available at the time. The union probably should have stepped up rather than dump all over the media.