Compliance & Regulation » Boeing’s PR Debacle Delivers A Lesson in Crisis Management

Boeing’s PR Debacle Delivers A Lesson in Crisis Management

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 plane

April 5, 2024

In January 2024, a door plug panel blew off an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 in mid-flight, causing rapid depressurization, and an emergency landing. Investigations pointed to missing bolts meant to secure the door plug. The incident was in the headlines for days, raising significant questions about Boeing’s quality control.

Outsourced maintenance personnel at a Boeing facility failed to reinstall the bolts after maintenance- a revelation that has become a public relations nightmare for the airplane manufacturer. Even worse, it follows the tragic crashes of two 737 MAX 8 jets in 2018 and 2019. Boeing’s reputation, and its trust by the public and aviation authorities, have been significantly damaged.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Imagine a crisis striking your organization, but your crisis management teams jump smoothly into action. They are ready because a business that is committed to compliance, a workplace where employees are urged to admit mistakes before they become disasters and leadership that admits failures and rectifies them, has their back.

That is what a nimble company, its legal department, and its C-suite needs to look like in today’s post-Boeing crisis environment.

Stakeholders, from regulators to consumers, demand a modern general counsel who not only anticipates crises, but has plans and a team in place to tackle them. Boeing’s recent problems underscore the fact that reactionary crisis management is not sufficient. Successful crisis management must be anticipatory and embedded in the corporate culture.

Calamities are not unique to Boeing. Data breaches, corporate fraud, shareholder disputes, partnership breakups, restructurings, product recalls, employment issues, and controversial COVID-related policies are all potential crises, and every business is susceptible.

Therefore, advanced crisis management planning, stress testing, and strategy are crucial for any entity, regardless of scale. The tone from the top must reinforce the highest standards and the most stringent commitment to a corporate compliance culture.


More often than not, crisis management is initiated after disaster strikes. However, a crisis management team that is familiar with the company’s business, its customers and partners, and its strengths, and weaknesses, should be assembled long before action is necessary. Waiting until a problem is discovered, or worse, made public, only makes the crisis worse.

A team of professionals ready to manage crisis response needs to be prepared to act rather than react. Proper preparation mitigates potential damage.

Many companies initiate investigations during crises, but they do so reactively. While internal inquiries are completed the company passively absorbs bad press and public outrage. By the time the investigation is complete, the damage to the business’s reputation, workforce morale and revenue is done. Post-crisis investigations are often effective and necessary, but they should be just part of a comprehensive strategy.


Small PR issues like supply chain disruptions and employee turnover can be dealt with through board oversight and C-suite intervention. More serious challenges — cyberattacks, environmental disasters, product recalls, executive controversies, social media backlash, mid-air door plug failures— require a crisis management team.

Ideally, the team includes lawyers, communications experts, PR specialists, and financial advisors. Crisis management planning must heavily involve attorneys because legal liability often accompanies corporate crises. Independent legal counsel trusted by internal stakeholders make ideal leaders.

Together, these professionals can anticipate situations that could disrupt a company, and devise response and risk mitigation strategies to preserve its goodwill, reputation, and revenue, while minimizing legal exposure.

In the event of a crisis, a properly constituted crisis management team executes a prepared playbook, having anticipated the scope of the challenge.

Only by addressing crisis management proactively with legal, communications, PR, and financial professionals, can management focus on running the business effectively despite anything that comes its way.

By Seth Darmstadter
Seth Darmstadter is the Managing Partner of the Chicago office of Michelman & Robinson, LLP and the firm’s nationwide Class Action & Complex Litigation Practice Leader. He can be reached at: [email protected].

This story originally appeared in Today’s General Counsel.

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