US Airways Case Summary

Sydney Flock


Crisis Management and Strategies


U.S. Airways and the Emergency Landing in the Hudson


             The U.S. Airways flight 1549 was headed for Charlotte, N.C., when the airplane struck a flock of birds during its takeoff at LaGuardia Airport.  On Thursday January, 15 the captain of the airplane Chesley Sullenberger or better known as “Sully” carefully directed the crowded jetliner over New York City and floated it onto the freezing waters of the Hudson River (  This crisis involved thousands of people.  U.S. Airways had fortunately just finished a “tabletop drill”, which was a drill that simulated a catastrophic accident.  This was all in thanks to James Olson the Vice President of Corporate Communications, and the teams and employees who participated in the drill.  US Airways had performed their drill just a month before the “Miracle on the Hudson”. 

            When the incident occurred each executive and communications team member remembers exactly where he or she was and what he or she were doing.  The team threw themselves into action.  Michelle Mohr the senior manager was headed for vacation when she heard of the crash; she immediately switched her plans and headed straight for Charlotte.  Morgan Durrant also a senior manager for US Airways was in Philadelphia and he caught the next flight to LaGuardia to provide support.  Olson was meeting with his Director of Information Technology incase of a crisis, Parker told him what had just happened and they installed all of the technology in a matter of minutes.  The first problem that the team had to deal with was to make sure all of the passengers and the crews were being taken care of.  The second thing was to issue a statement on the crisis, with factual information.  Olson and the communications team immediately activated the emergency response plan.  They had a goal to present the first news release within 15 minutes of the crisis, They had initially created templates for certain crises but none of them fit what had just happened.  Information was changing rapidly so the team had to make sure the information was true before they could release it to the public.  In this certain crisis the team at US airways was deemed to be much more accurate rather than fast.  Finally the team received word from Captain Sully that everyone on the plain was safe. 

            If US Airways had not been so prepared for a crisis such as this, things could have went dramatically different.  Their strength definitely was that they were all prepared for such a crisis, and that all the Communications team members jumped into action as soon as they heard of the plain.  A weakness in this strategy maybe that all of the team members were somewhat spread out across the US, and that none of emergency procedure equipment had been installed yet.  US Airways however overcame those challenges with grace, and turned their weaknesses into strengths.  This crisis was an opportunity for US Airways to show the world, how prepared they were for an emergency, how well trained their staff was, and how much they cared about the public.  This situation could have easily went the other way, which would have threatened US Airway’s reputation.  US Airways handled themselves very well, and that shows in the publics’ reaction toward the company. 

            After the team heard word from Captain Sully that everyone on the plane was safe, people watching television news also heard about the Captain going back through the plane himself, to ensure that everyone was safe.  The Corporate Communications team put up its customer and media website that was dedicated to 1549 within 30 minutes of the accident.  The first news release was issued in 45 minutes, and the CEO held a press briefing covered by every network and news outlet within 90 minutes.  The team also purchased key words from search engines such as Yahoo and Google in order to direct people to Flight 1549 micro site.  There was a Care Team that was dispatched to New York, and they provided cell phones and warm clothing for passengers.  They created a Family Support Hotline, which was a toll free number that was set up for family members to call and get information on the whereabouts of their family.  There was also a Go-Team that carried company emergency credit cards and cash to first responders in order to book hotel rooms, and to buy clothing for passengers whose luggage was under the freezing water.  After the initial accident the CEO announced in a news release his appreciation for all of the crewmembers of US Airways, police, ferry boat operators, water taxis, EMTs, Emergency Management, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and others.  The CEO also sent each passenger a letter explaining that they were in the process of retrieving their personal belongings, a check for $5,000 to cover immediate expenses, and a separate check to reimburse the costs of the original airfare.  Passengers were also offered Chairman’s Preferred Status for flying through March 2010. 

            The incident came to its popular name “Miracle on the Hudson”.  All of the employees for US Airways were rewarded and recognized for all of their handwork.  A passenger explained that when he received his personal belongings he found his boarding ticket, and framed it.  The public was very impressed in the way that US Airways handled the crisis, and how they took care of their passengers.

            This is the best-handled crisis I have seen yet.  US Airways showed a great deal of care for all of their passengers, and went out of the company’s way to make sure all the passengers were being taken care of, and were happy.  Other companies should definitely take notes, on how this crisis was managed.  I am a little confused on why the Communications team did not already have a template made up for a plane crash, but I’m sure there is just information I am missing there. I’m not sure if US Airways actually apologized for the accident but with the way the company handled itself I think the passengers and the public were incredibly pleased.  US Airways did not let the situation get bad enough to where they had to restore their reputation.  Their reputation I’m sure became even more positive after this incident. 


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2 Responses to US Airways Case Summary

  1. karobinson5 says:

    This was a great analysis. We brought out many of the same points. You mentioned the press release templates. I believe the company had a template for a plane crash, just not one for a water landing where everyone survived. In my opinion, US Airways may have only had a press release template for the worst case scenario of a plane crash. I didn’t think of the distance between the team as a weakness, but I agree with you that it was a weakness. This weakness was compounded with the fact that the emergency phone/contact lines had not been installed. US Airways did do a good job of getting information out to its publics. The company showed that they had a well trained staff that was prepared for the emergency. They company also showed that the cared about the public. I think it was a good idea for US Airways to recognize the employees publicly. These displays helped to enhance the company’s public image, reputation and concern for its passengers. They received further good press due to the number of positive feature stories the crisis created. This was all positive public awareness the company received without having to fund an expensive public relations campaign try to be reactive because they were unprepared. And I agree they did not apologize. I cited the Apologia Theory of dissociation but in a positive manner.

  2. lynnluig says:

    I agree that US Airways handled this crisis very well. They successfully communicated to the public the facts about the accident which was their best defense against bad publicity. After all, they didn’t actually do anything wrong. So, the facts speak for themselves. If anything, they proved that they are reliable and safe in response to potential catastrophe and their staff is well trained. They remained humble and did not gloat about how well they reacted. My only criticism is that they should be more proactive in finding a solution to the bird problem. They aren’t the only airline that has had to make an emergency landing after getting struck by birds. The reaction by the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and Environmental Protection Departments was quite aggressive after this event. I think it would have been in US Airways best interest to focus on finding a humane solution to this problem by teaming up with environmental activists.

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