When studies hit home

I am afraid of flying… well I am VERY afraid of flying. I still travel but it’s a struggle. I do not fly within Iceland as I do not like to fly in small airplanes where you can feel every “bump”. I used to take anxiety pills before flying but nowadays I try to breath through the scare and do a bit of mediation. Which can be difficult if there is a lot of turbulence. Green meadows or the ocean might not be the places you want to picture yourself at as that’s precisely where you don’t want to end up in that particular moment!

When it comes to news about plane crashes and other flight related incidents, I try to avoid reading the news as it will only empower my fear. As someone said, ignorance is a bliss! Articles and studies on safety in air do not help me overcome my fear. People telling me statistics and information on safety while flying don’t help either, as if there is anyone who knows these things it’s the person that is afraid of flying, as that person has tried to know as much as possible to calm her fears.

I once had a rescue team member telling me that people at the back of a plane are most likely to survive a plane crash. From then on I always tried to get a seat at the back. Later on, I was told by a pilot that sitting at the back ensures that you will feel the most turbulence and in the case of a plane crash most people on the plane are almost certain to die. It made horrible sense. After that I have always asked to get a seat as far in front of the plane as possible as it’s the turbulence that stirs up my fears and panic.

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In the last week it has been hard to avoid news about plain crashes as Boeing’s 737 Max 8 crashed in Ethiopia. The second plane of that type to go down within 5 months of each other.

As I couldn’t avoid the headlines and the news I looked at the case with the eyes of a communication student and it was a big ,,aha” moment for me. I could connect so many theories and methods to the news. As horrible and sad as the news are, it is interesting to look at the case from that perspective.

First off, I started thinking about all the stakeholders involved, and oh my! There are so many! Boeing, airlines (that fly those planes and the ones that don’t), Boeings competitors, the families of the passengers, the UN (and other employers of passengers), regulators, the media, Boeing’s staff, airline’s staff, shareholders, the public, people that are afraid of flying and the list goes on.

When it comes to the stakeholders it was also interesting to see how their stakes changed with the blink of an eye. Just by voicing an opinion or by actions, players that might have been considered quite neutral became high power, high interest players.

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Boeing took it’s time when it came to action. However, certain airlines took the leap and decided to ground their 737 Max 8 planes while the accident was under investigation. By doing so other airlines were in a way pushed to respond in the same way. Other airlines didn’t react until their stocks started plummeting and then there were the ones that waited for regulators to step in and put bans/restrictions into action.

As we were taught about single and double-loop reputation-repairing activities at the beginning of the week as well I was all ears (as I am in communication classes, I just love them!). We were taught that the single-loop action entailed a short-term action where the immediate event is managed. In the single loop people are secured. The double-loop however is an action where a company changes it behaviour in order to avoid this type of a crisis in the future. To achieve that they find the root of the crisis and take proactive steps to make sure there isn’t more damage to reputation. We were taught that the best practice is to incorporate both single and double-loop reputation-repairing activities in a crisis.

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Watching Boeing gave me the feeling they wanted to skip the first step as they didn’t seem to see the importance of grounding their own planes while airlines took it upon themselves to do so. It was very interesting as I was learning this to be able to put it in perspective to a real-life crisis that was ongoing before and after this lecture.

Like it wasn’t enough to be able to relate the communication lectures to the Boeing crisis I could also do so in a Brand Management and Corporate Identity seminar. We were given random types of companies and told to come up with values for them. My group got allocated an “airline”. My first thought was safety.

Me and the professor debated for a little while whether that is something that was a given for an airline or not. I, being afraid of flying, told him it was incredibly important to me to know that was one of the values and that it would give me a larger sense of safety to fly with an airline that would emphasise on that as a value.

I would have loved to tackle a communication problem for Boeing, an airline or another stakeholder this week. I guess I did in my mind anyway.

It is a great feeling though when you can relate your studies to something that is going on out in the great big world (even though in this case, the event was very tragic). Boeing’s problems are just a fraction of where I, as a communication student can do so as I’ve seen through my studies and the media, communications are relevant in every aspect and I am yet to find a situation where it is not.

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