Communication Faculty Publications

Title

United Airlines' and American Airlines' Online Crisis Communication Following the September 11 Terrorist Attacks

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

11-2003

Journal Title

Public Relations Review

Volume

29

Issue

4

First Page

427

Last Page

441

DOI

10.1016/j.pubrev.2003.08.005

Abstract

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, provided a challenging series of events for the crisis communication efforts of American Airlines and United Airlines. Based on crisis communication theory and organizational use of the Web, this study examined how the two companies used their Web sites during the first three weeks after the incidents as one means of conveying information following the attacks.

Theoretically, analysis of incident-related segments of the two sites showed that the airlines evidenced key elements of crisis response. They provided instructing communication by giving facts, stating how their publics should take action, and providing information regarding how the problem was being corrected. Additionally, they offered adjusting communication through a series of condolence messages and links to relief organizations before emphasizing normal operations.

From an online perspective, this study revealed that the Web enabled both companies to provide an immediate response to the attacks. The Web also allowed United and American to offer frequent updates about the incidents to their publics and to communicate their crisis response process to various publics simultaneously.

Keywords

September 11, airlines