Simon Calder: How a minor prang became a major case of 'de-identification'

The man who pays his way

Thai Airways flight 679 from Guangzhou did not arrive at Bangkok in the conventional manner. The Airbus A330 ran off the runway onto the grass. No one was harmed during this alarming experience, but in the subsequent evacuation 13 people were hurt. And shortly afterwards, Thai's reputation suffered a self-inflicted mauling.

The picture above shows what happened next. You might imagine Thailand's national carrier would devote all its efforts to caring for passengers and managing the considerable disruption after one runway was closed. In fact, some of its resources were spent on a botched attempt to conceal its involvement in what, in air-safety terms, was an insignificant prang.

The kindergarten-grade emergency paint job to black out the word "Thai" from the fuselage and tail hardly chimes with the airline's slogan, "Smooth as silk". You might presume it was a rogue decision – perhaps a panicking manager asking a couple of hapless employees to obliterate the name, forgetting the airline has spent a marketing fortune on the purple, pink and gold that make its identity so recognisable.

Yet the decision was taken at a higher level. Initially, a Thai Airways spokesperson told me it is the policy of Star Alliance, the grouping to which the airline belongs: "The blurring of the logo is a practice Star Alliance members are recommended to do known as the 'crisis communication rule'. It is meant to protect both the image of the airline and other members of Star Alliance."

This staggering assertion suggested that, in the event of an incident involving a Star Alliance member, the first thought of carriers such as Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines is to minimise the risk of contamination by disassociating themselves from the event.

Shortly afterwards, the spokesperson issued a "slight change of communication", saying: "It is not a Star Alliance policy or procedure to de-identify aircraft." They confirmed, though, that "Thai generally practises the de-identifying of an aircraft after an incident (or accident)."

Deploying people (and presumably some Thai dye) to "de-identify" a stricken plane in a vain bid to pretend the airline wasn't involved seems to me a peculiar priority on the part of the airline. Nothing to see here, people, move along now.

BA shows the way

Perhaps Thai's bosses had in mind Pan Am 103 – the jumbo jet blown out of the skies 25 years ago en route from Heathrow to New York. Fragments of the 747 in a field near the town of Lockerbie, showing the aircraft name, Clipper Maid of the Seas, became the image of this tragedy. Some old aviation hands say that the familiar blue-and-white livery hastened the demise of Pan Am, which failed three years later.

The travelling public is smarter than that. If an airline responds to an incident professionally and respectfully, its reputation may actually be enhanced.

On 22 August 1985, British Airtours flight 28M caught fire on the ground at Manchester airport. Many survived the ordeal, but 53 passengers and two crew died. British Airtours was the holiday charter subsidiary of British Airways.

The parent company, to its enduring credit, made no attempt to distance itself from the offshoot. Instead, BA took full responsibility. The airline threw all its efforts and expertise into helping the families of the victims, assisting survivors and working with accident investigators to understand the chain of events that led to the tragedy. Many lessons were learned from the disaster about such survivable accidents, such as the need for emergency floor lighting to guide passengers to the nearest exit.

Since the Manchester tragedy, BA has earned a formidable reputation as one of the safest airlines in the world. In contrast, the botched attempt by Thai Airways to disguise its involvement in an incident heaps nothing but ignominy upon an otherwise excellent airline.

Given Thai Airways' apparent desperation to disassociate itself from the Bangkok incident, I wondered what the airline had to hide. It turns out that, since 1980, Thai has suffered five fatal crashes. I would not have found that out, and you would not have read it, were it not for this ludicrous late-night paint job at Bangkok. As in so many areas of life, the cover-up has proved much more damaging than the original issue.

Out of Africa

BA has had its own communication breakdown this week. Last week it announced the short-notice cancellation of the route to the Zambian capital Lusaka. Flights end next month.

When a UK airline axes a route, it is obliged to offer booked passengers a choice of a full refund or alternative flights. In the case of Lusaka, that should mean BA paying for connecting flights to and from an airport that the airline still serves, such as Nairobi. But that's not what the carrier initially told disappointed passengers.

Emma Coupe and her fiance, Giles, are flying to Lusaka for their honeymoon. Inconveniently, BA axes the route while they are away. Emma told me: "We have been offered replacement flights home from Entebbe, Nairobi or Johannesburg. But we have to pay to get ourselves to any of these locations. Is this right?"

No. BA says call-centre staff were mistaken; the airline will pay for a connection to Nairobi.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea