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10 Disastrous PR Moves by Companies

Alaska Airlines and the diaper incident
The inevitable bit of bad service on an airline (or a grumpy passenger) make for easy headlines. Southwest Airlines (LUV - Get Report), for example, had to deal with the weighty fallout when they angered filmmaker Kevin Smith by saying he was too fat to fly with a one-seat ticket.

All a company's PR department can do in a situation such as that is straddle the line between apologizing and defending their actions. With any luck, short memories will prevail and everyone moves onto a new villain. (Thankfully, airlines always have the TSA to steal away the attention.)

Alaska Airlines (ALK - Get Report) had every opportunity to douse a publicity fire when a family was stuck in Las Vegas because the man's wife, tending to a baby's diaper needs, was kept from boarding the plane because, in the alleged words of an employee, she was "one minute late."

The airline certainly sounds heartless. To be fair, however, time is of the essence when boarding a plane. With all due sympathy for a mom having to deal with a child, once the plane door closes, security measures dictate that no one boards. People are stuck on standby every day because a connecting flight was a few minutes off schedule.

But Hell hath no fury like a "mommy blogger" scorned, and an online attack on the airline's handling of the incident titled "Alaska Airlines Hates Families" got widespread exposure and was reported in mainstream media.

In its annual rundown of the worst PR blunders, the San Francisco-based Fineman PR explained what the airline did wrong.

"While Alaska Airlines social media manager Elliott Pesut did respond promptly in the blog's comment section, he did so without compassion, citing rigid policy and offering a future travel voucher for less than half the family's losses," the PR firm wrote.

The lesson learned: when you are under the harsh light of a full-on media attack, swallow some pride and a few bucks by going beyond normal procedures to make things right. A little contrition can go a long way.

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