The Parallax Brief

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Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

Aeroflot Excuses Don’t Fly

"I'd like to velcome passengers to zis Aeroflot flight to New York."

After a now infamous incident involving an allegedly drunk – but undoubtedly unfit for purpose – pilot on an Aeroflot trans-Atlantic flight from Moscow, the airline has finally decided that the bad press surrounding the episode isn’t really doing it much good, and has apologized.

The original response from the Aeroflot PR team was comically awful, including Aeroflot representative Irina Dannenberg advising a reporter calling the company for comment to “read about it on the internet”, and another representative telling passengers immediately after the incident that “it is not such a big deal if the pilot was drunk.”

The apology, therefore, is certainly a welcome step forward. 

But even this more communicative front raises more questions than it answers. Instead admitting fault and announcing the launch of an independent enquiry to investigate the entire incident and make recommendations for the company’s future conduct, Aeroflot’s deputy CEO, Lev Koshlyakov, speaking to English language daily, the Moscow Times, still resorted to a range of asinine excuses that hark back to Soviet PR efforts.

“He was in an extreme state of stress when he went out to talk to the passengers. He normally doesn’t speak very clearly as it is, and… Our pilots aren’t trained for direct contact with passengers.”

Riiiggght.

Are we seriously expected to believe that the whole incident was simply a case of a man with poor diction and sociophobia? To be sure, not everyone can perform like Barak Obama when speaking to a crowd, but Aeroflot can’t expect us to believe that the lack of special training meant that just opening a door to prove sobriety caused such an extreme reaction that he instantly succumbed to symptoms which closely resembled acute alcoholic intoxication.

And another thing: where is the pilot?

The airline still asserts he did not test positive for alcohol after being removed from the plane, yet can only offer speculation that he may have suffered a stroke immediately prior to the flight. How long does a stroke take to diagnose? And this still does not explain why his fellow pilots or air crew allowed him to board. 

Aeroflot explains the pilot’s absence for media interviews by claiming he is undergoing treatment for an as yet undisclosed condition and that his position at the company will be decided after the completion of said treatment. For what and for how long remains a mystery. 

(I usually find that treatment centres unnecessary: a monstrous, greasy bacon sandwich washed down with a couple of litres of an energy drink with electrolytes tends to do the job for me.)

A good PR department would have made clear immediately that he and all those associated with the flight had been suspended pending a full investigation. Aeroflot’s efforts seem to be simply a case of retreating behind their walls, shrouding the incident and mystery. They might as well have specifically designed their PR response to provide conflicting evidence and invite speculation.

The incident itself was shocking, but almost as bad has been the amateurish performance of the Aeroflot PR/corporate communications department.

Their explanations just don’t fly.

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