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4 crisis-handling tips we learnt from Tony Fernandes & QZ8501

No one in Malaysia will argue that 2014 has been one of the most trying years in our nation’s history, with tornadoes, floods, haze, downed flights, scandals, dengue and literally every wrath you can possibly imagine. So immediately after the massive (dare we say biblical?) floods of last week, we get news that yet ANOTHER flight has gone missing from AirAsia, who can blame anyone for thinking that it’s a Malaysian plane?

Except that it’s actually Indonesian owned, as a few fans pointed out on the CILISOS Facebook page.

DESPITE being in a country not particularly known for handling crisis’ well, despite not being directly responsible and despite owning only a 49% share in the company in AirAsia Indonesia, Tan Sri Anthony Francis “Tony” Fernandes  stepped up to the plate to handle the situation. And to us at least, he did everything absolutely perfectly.

1. Respond quickly, and with real actions.

Barely an hour after the incident was announced via AirAsia’s own twitter, Tony managed expectations before they happened. That they would have another statement soon. 3 hours later, Tony was on a flight to Surabaya, with clear intentions of exactly why he was doing that.

With this one tweet, he basically said…

I Got this lemur

(he also indirectly told us he’s too manly for AutoCorrect)

Which are apparently the sexiest 3 words a man can say to a woman. And the world listened.

“Fernandes maintained an image of calm today even as his company plunged into its first major crisis after Indonesia AirAsia flight QZ8501 went missing in bad weather en route from Indonesia to Singapore.” ‘AirAsia’s Tony Fernandes confronts first major crisis’ The Malaysian Insider

Several newspapers and sites also started covering him in a very flattering light. Compare that to what happened earlier with MH370 this year, where no one knew what was happening, and PM Najib’s first statement a full 9 hours after the incident basically didn’t tell us anything.


Our PM's came in another 3 hours after MAS,

Our PM’s came in another 3 hours after MAS’s first statement, which was 6 hours after the plane was lost and didn’t tell anyone anything. The first official statement came 170 hours later.


Having said that, the Government handled MH17 much better, with responses almost within minutes of the first news reports.

2. Don’t put the blame on others

Tony Fernandes  staff responsibility

Sadly, Blame-Culture is a big thing in Malaysia. When someone screws up, everyone points fingers. We saw it all earlier this year when they were deciding who lost MH370, and we see it everytime there’s a big issue that everyone wants to wash their hands of. In the case of QZ8501, it would’ve been quite easy to blame his Indonesian partners since they were the majority shareholders. Or the airport. Or the weather. Or traffic.

However, Tony is known to ALWAYS step up. Even earlier this year when some idiot thought it’d be smart to publish this…

image from

image from

And it’s not like Tony approves EVERY AD that goes out, he still took responsibility for it.

“It is a stupid advertisement and I have taken it up with AirAsia’s chief executive officer Aireen Omar who informed me the advertisement will be removed. We have set up additional controls to ensure that this is not repeated.” – ‘Tony Fernandes Calls “Lousy Nurses” Tune Insurance Ad “Stupid” As He Offers His Apology’ Tony Fernandes,

And yet, he never let anyone know which agency was the one responsible.

5 fascinating discoveries from Google Street View Malaysia

Cos in the end, he was.

3. Tell people where to find information so they don’t have to look for it themselves

If there’s one thing we’ve learnt this year, is that rumours spread faster than facts. Remember all those MH370 hoaxes? Also, when you fail to inform people well enough, they’ll look everywhere and sometimes they’ll find other stuff – like those corpse images from MH17. Right from the get-go, AirAsia started posting up all their official statements on where the most eyeballs would be. No, not the newspaper, but their Facebook page. Already, they’ve released

And so far, it’s working. Even when people occasionally ask for things on their social media, someone steps in to defend them.1   Updated statement  QZ8501

1   Updated statement  QZ85012

Updated statement  QZ8501 3

We’d say in all fairness, the social media response has been in AirAsia’s favour.

4. Be sincere and transparent

Tony Fernandes empathic social media

tony caricature full

caricature from

Note the language. It’s strong, and yet it’s meant to connect with people – to make them feel that he cares. Of course, Ol’ Tony is a social media regular (and we’re sure he learnt a thing or two from the earlier MAS blunders). He knows how it works – which is in a broader sense, how humans work. There is no ‘PR spiel”, no complicated language, no nothing-statements. And you can try to copy this method, and yet you might still do horribly.

There’s a study here about doctors that show that going to the docs is a very stressful activity, not unlike losing a loved one. As such, the subjects are very emotionally vulnerable, and usually don’t react well.

“Doctors are often thrown in awkward and emotional situations, especially when they have to deliver bad news to the patients. They can help resolve that awkwardness by showing empathy.” – ‘Physicians Urged To Show More Empathy”,

But how do you simulate empathy!? Easy. Don’t simulate it.

The thing about Tony is that he tweets from the heart (although we’re sure that it goes through a pretty darn good corporate filter in his head). This is why every so often, he’ll unexpectedly reply a tweet, and the result of that will usually just make everyone go AWWWWWWWww..

tony fernandes offered job


And because his intentions are good, he’s built alot of good will over the years. He says what he means, and he means what he says. So regardless of the outcome of the QZ8501 flight, people will know that Tony really did try his best.

I’ve personally met the guy before (shortly after the Nurse Ad incident), and I told him that I truly admired how he didn’t even name the ad agency he worked with on the ad. Someday, when you retire from AirAsia and run for office, you’ve got my vote 🙂

Oh and er… no one’s PERFECT PERfect la. Apparently it’s not a one-off typo. Erm… anyone wanna tell Tan Sri?

Tony Passanger


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  4. SWSB Dasanayaka

    04/01/2015 at 10:09 am

    Read: Article title: Tsunami Disaster Recovery Experience: A Case Study on Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises in Southern Sri Lanka,

  5. Grammar Nazi

    02/01/2015 at 12:37 am

    The plural of “crisis” is “crises”, not “crisis’” with an apostrophe. Ee yerrrrr!!!

    • Chak Onn Lau

      02/01/2015 at 5:40 pm

      hahaha actually, that quote mark was to indicate the title of the article taken from Malaysian Insider. Sorry, job application rejected

  6. Martin

    01/01/2015 at 6:52 pm

    Sorry. You lost me at “DESPITE”. Yes, that’s still early at the beginning of your article. You have opened this article with a strong “DESPITE” picture portrayal toward Indonesian, so whatever you have in store in the next hundred paragraphs, it’s all already lost in the storm. You can’t give patient medicine pills in a poison labeled bottle. Your hatred atmosphere sounds far louder than whatever wise words you have, it’s like a smoker trying to teach his children not to smoke, while still smoking at the same time.

    • Chak Onn Lau

      02/01/2015 at 5:38 pm

      Erm… actually we had 4 Despites just in case 🙂

  7. MKR

    01/01/2015 at 12:41 pm

    The article makes it sound as if the indonesians couldn’t handle the situation, and that the mighty fernandes did everything. The condescending tone that this writer has just shows that you have few respect to all the indonesian ground crew that reacted quickly to find the wreckage, and worked through the dangerous weather (where it was raining cats and dogs, and getting to the wreckage included rappelling down the cliff despite it being very slippery.) I’m not denying that Mr. Tony Fernandes helped out a lot, his will to make sure that everything was right is admirable, and helped his company reach greater heights. But Mr. Fernandes did NOT do everything, he simply did what he had to do, in other words, he was putting in as much effort as the indonesians were. Keep in mind, all the information came from AirAsia Indonesia, not AirAsia central. They put out the information quickly, they reported it as soon as possible and contacted Fernandes ASAP. So Mr. Fernandes did not telepathically know that it was missing. The only difference is that he was willing to do what few CEOs did. Keep in mind, he may have not pointed fingers, but he certainly did not take the blame as well. Yes, it wasn’t his fault, but the fact that you pointed out that he ‘stepped up’ and that he did not point fingers at all as an extraordinary character is questionable. The simple fact is, it’s too quick for him to make any judgements, he is a realist, he focuses on what’s on hand and gets it done. The blame will come much later, once enough evidence is provided. Once that happens, fingers will start pointing, as usual. These are trying times for Malaysia, but keep in mind, on almost all of the flights lost, Indonesians did lose their people as well. And with an AirAsia Indonesia flight lost, most of the people in there were Indonesians, same goes for the captain and the crew. So do not forget that they too are suffering.

    • Chak Onn Lau

      02/01/2015 at 5:42 pm

      Hi MKR,

      Not sure where this is coming from, but the article makes no mention of any sort of lack of effort by the Indonesian authorities.

      In fact, it’s not a topic we’d feel comfortable commenting on, since we don’t know what it’s like over there.

      What we ARE commenting on, are the ways in which Tony handles a very tragic situation better than most Malaysian leaders.

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  9. Ed

    31/12/2014 at 5:49 pm

    How much did Tony pay you to write this?
    In time of crisis, instead you give us an insight or update from the tragedy. You choose to highlight the man behind the trouble airlines.

  10. Lean Malaysian

    31/12/2014 at 3:35 pm

    yes, indeed.

    In between MH370, MH17 and QZ8501 you cant find the similarities therefore the differences.

    1- MH370 was the first ever after so many years of 1977 incident. Everyone clueless. To add up, the losing and missing is even more as the departed flight was ironically guessed missing in the Hindi Ocean.

    2- MH17 was handled in shocked just few months after MH370. Nonetheless, it was brought down in the no-man land with the dispute among stateless authorities that ware more ridicule to handle.

    3- QZ8501 was somewhere in the easier reached ocean that is not more than 40km from the shore. Lesson learnt from the previous 2. And of course, it’s a body of knowledge that we should learn from the previous history happening around us.

    During crisis, it’s hard to say that one is better than another except that the incident are happening with a different cause, and handle by different experiences grabbed from whatever has happened around you.

    • Chak Onn Lau

      31/12/2014 at 4:49 pm


      Yep again, the comparisons aren’t the point of the article. It’s demonstrating what makes a good crisis-management persona. Sorry if it seemed unnecessarily bitchy.

      We did include quotes about how MH17 was handled much better.

  11. D.R

    31/12/2014 at 12:49 pm

    While I’m not disputing the fact that TF is good at responding to crisis, you can’t fairly compare MAS, press and PM statements’ regarding MH370, MH17, and QZ8501. MH17 and QZ8501 are easier to understand the cause of the incident. One was downed, one was lost during a terrible weather with communication from the plane to ATC specifically tells us so. MH370 was a pure mystery. How can you expect a statement just one hour after it has been reported lost from the radar?

    p/s: the news of QZ8501 was spread around afternoon so it was 5-6 hours after the actual incident. Get your facts right.

    • Chak Onn Lau

      31/12/2014 at 2:57 pm

      Hi D. R,

      The fact is we only found out it was downed yesterday and our article was written before that.

      Also, we did say that MH17 was handled much better. The comparison is only passing. We believe tony also had the benefit of hindsight from what was done wrong before.

      and it’s not about what info you have. Tony tweeted “On my way to Surabaya where most of the passangers are from as with my Indonesian management. Providing information as we get it.” It states personal action, and personal promise, without any external info.

      Hope that helps 🙂

  12. amani

    31/12/2014 at 12:15 pm

    as expected someone have so much time to write article like this..don’t compare it bro..the issue totally different.

  13. aman

    31/12/2014 at 12:14 pm

    as expected someone have so much time to write article like this..don’t compare it bro..the issue totally different.

  14. HarryPotter

    31/12/2014 at 10:53 am

    Does a hug from Tony comes w a price tag too?
    Bear Hug Rp100,000
    Kiss of cheek Rp 200,000
    Handshake. Rp 50,000
    Handshake and Selfie Rp 300,000

  15. Shiv

    31/12/2014 at 9:29 am

    what a lots of bullshit from the writer… Plane missing at 6.15 Indonesian time malaysia time 7.15… On your first point Twitter screen shot show 4am in the morning.. Don’t use diff country screen shot juz to run down how mh370 been handle.. Air Asia plane missing at 7.15 malaysia time.. News out abt missing only at 1pm malaysia time….

    • Chak Onn Lau

      31/12/2014 at 2:53 pm

      Hey bro. Not sure which screenshot you’re talking about, most of them are embedded Twitter links, which means that I’m guessing what they they show is erm… your timezone.

  16. Jason Yap

    31/12/2014 at 4:47 am

    The 49% shareholding is to meet local regulations.

    This is what Tony said :
    I am the leader of the company
    They were on my plane
    I am responsible

  17. Pingback: AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes places himself at center of the Flight 8501 crisis - The Washington Post

  18. Mr MaGoo

    30/12/2014 at 11:37 pm

    His tweet he should mention his passengers family first over his staffs. After all customers always comes first.
    Probably his only mistake so far…

    • Mr Mustache

      31/12/2014 at 1:37 am

      Does your customers come first or your family members? I don’t see problem with this statements. Both are important but thats what make him different than other public figure in Malaysia as he always put his staffs regardless of their position first…not unless you are a money minded person and put your family second but to let your customers come first. Thats how we know Tony since the early stage of him taking over Airasia and make it internationally well known, he even work with his staffs be it in the tarmac, inside the aircraft or anywhere. This is a well known facts

    • jeff

      31/12/2014 at 8:07 am

      You need the crew stay positive to continue work on the situation. U got to give them positive energy to work on it. Else do you thing it got so fast to discover the crash plane?

    • Jo

      31/12/2014 at 10:06 am

      We are talking about human lives here. his staff also has family and are also human, are they less deserving than their passengers? In a crisis all humans are equal. No one life is more deserving to save over another.

  19. m&k

    30/12/2014 at 6:17 pm

    Not disputing that Tony and AA has handled this brilliantly being very transparent to all parties and offering immediate action, but just a heads up on the news release comparison. Every plane carries a certain amount of fuel which allows it to fly for a stipulated time. Airlines will most likely NOT release news of missing aircraft until that time has passed just in case the aircraft made it safely elsewhere to avoid unnecessary panic. In the case of MH370 the B777 had enough fuel for a 6-7 hour flight whereas the A320 had fuel sufficient for a to and fro flight totaling 4 hours. This is why you got the news and press release earlier in this accident. Just fyi guys.

  20. A

    30/12/2014 at 4:39 pm

    “Passangers” has been stored by his phone’s autocorrect, so it uses that every time. Either as simply as that, or it’s another carefully calculated PR ploy to show that his tweets are spontaneous and not ghost-written by a PR lackey. (sick-in-the-head conspiracy theorist).

    • Chak Onn Lau

      30/12/2014 at 5:16 pm

      wow… that’s next level bro

    • qwerty

      30/12/2014 at 7:41 pm

      bro how long it took for u to make ur tinfoil hat

    • Chak Onn Lau

      30/12/2014 at 11:32 pm

      ? er… Area 51 Roswell Illuminati!

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