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American Airlines and the OJ Incident PR Fail

It looks like American Airlines (AMR) hasn't learned from the Mr X incident. A recent viral blog post about an orange juice-related incident gave American the opportunity to respond once again. It hasn't, and instead continues to study the issue while opinions continue to form.

Dave Koss posted the story on on December 8. There was a flight attendant named Helen on his flight who apparently was not having a very good day (or, um, year). Here's just a taste.

When he finally got [his tray] out, [Helen] dropped the breakfast hard onto the tray. He asked if he could have some orange juice. This is when it hit the fan. "This must be your first time in first class," she said. He asked what she meant by that. He told her he was actually on the flight that made him Executive Platinum for the 10th year in a row. She said, "You obviously don't know how this works." He told her in a calm voice that she was being very condescending. That's when she blew up on him and woke me up. He started looking the other way and asked her to stop yelling at him.
It only got worse from there. Eventually, she handed the man a warning saying that he could be jailed for interfering with a crew member's duties. It really makes American look terrible.

On December 10, the Consumerist picked up the story and it has taken off from there. A quick Google search shows more than 70,000 results for American Airlines orange juice. The entire first page of results references this story and they're from well-visited sites like Gadling, AOL, and of course, Flyertalk. So how is American responding? They aren't.

They have apparently apologized to the passengers involved here, but I have yet to see a quote from American in any of the stories I've read. I called American and asked for comment on Friday morning. They simply responded that they had just seen the story and they were "actively investigating it." I followed up again yesterday figuring they would have more to say after a few days. Nope. American spokesperson Tim Smith said only this:

I mentioned the last time we e-mailed that we are in the midst of a thorough investigation. It continues. More interviews are scheduled tomorrow as well.

And we do not just speak with the customer filing the complaint -- though we certainly do that as well. We are also talking with: all crewmembers from that flight -- not just the flight attendant in question. Plus other passengers who were nearby.

We also pour over all written reports from crewmembers and any reports taken by others. There are also procedures associated with the union which represents our flight attendants. The point is -- our investigation will be very complete and will include more information and sources than I believe most folks have at this point.

When the investigation is complete, we will take any appropriate action as necessary. We are not quite there yet.

Once again, American is losing out on the opportunity to influence the conversation. Right now, there is a lot of venom in the comments toward American and toward the flight attendant. It's smart of them to investigate this thoroughly, but they should absolutely being saying more than they are. By now, they should have an idea of whether or not the story has some truth to it or if there's another side of the story to tell. They should at least come out publicly stating that though they're still investigating, if this did happen it won't be tolerated. Instead, others keep talking and the silence on their end is deafening.

It keeps getting worse for them. Delta (DAL) recently offered elite status to those passengers who were on this flight. It's a smart PR move for them to get in on this. They have nothing to lose. And until American says something, they will continue to watch this opportunity to influence the conversation slip away.

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