Chevron and Alaska both taking a beating, but is it fair?

Around here Alaska Airlines is a typically much admired company. An Alaska-originated airline now hq’d in Seattle that has been growing and performing quite admirably in the often cloudy skies of the air transport economy. But lately, it’s been taking a real beating.

First, there was the story that went crazy on Facebook about how they mistreated a Parkinson’s patient, with one witness calling Alaska employees “the worst of humanity.” Then, passengers on a flight noted a piece missing from a wing, but reassuringly, there was a message next to the damage that said “We know about this.” Hmmm, not so reassuring. Then the story hits the news about a $1 million fine levied by FAA for installing the wrong rivets.

The media, in quite typical fashion, has had a bit of a hay day with all this bad stuff. But, Alaska has a very solid reputation around Seattle and that shows in this remarkably even-handed (IMHO, of course) blog on the Seattle PI.  In each case of bad news, things are not what they seemed or often reported.

The bad treatment of passenger? Turns out the man had late stage Parkinsons, couldn’t understand directions, did not respond to what he was being told. The law requires the disabled to self-identify and he didn’t, and employees (sadly) concluded he was drunk. Big lesson, but not “the worst of humanity” as the errant Facebooker reported. Wonder if the guy knows any history, like say, maybe Hitler or Stalin?

The message about the damage was to let the pilots know that the maintenance crew was on it. Not the smartest thing to do however and I’m guessing some maintenance crew training is in order.

And the fines. Turns out in the statement provided by Alaska that they installed rivets that were acceptable at the time, but after minor problems detected the FAA decided they were not OK and fined them.

That’s the problem with the way these stories are told in the media and often social media. The nuances are left out. Stories are simplified into good and bad with little in between, but we all know life is more complicated than that.

As for Chevron, they are taking a real whipping over the refinery fire near San Francisco. I won’t repeat what I commented on on emergencymgmt.com except to reiterate how ugly it is out there when things go wrong. Are they being treated fairly? It’s clear they have many enemies in the community and around the nation (can’t wait to see what Rachel Maddow does to Chevron). But I keep thinking, I’m guessing these people buy gas. That’s no justification for accidents, but sometimes people seem to forget that these companies are made up of good people, just like them, trying their best to do their jobs.  The worst of humanity? Reminds me of an old story about the pot calling the kettle names.