PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: British Airways deftly averts PR turbulence

LONDON: While the airline industry remains in a financial tailspin, at least one carrier is keeping its sense of humor when it comes to media relations.

LONDON: While the airline industry remains in a financial tailspin, at least one carrier is keeping its sense of humor when it comes to media relations.

When actress Elizabeth Hurley and boyfriend Arun Nayar flew British Airways first class last weekend, they set tabloid tongues wagging with reports that the pair took a public display of affection too far, making other travelers uncomfortable. According to the Australian newspaper The Daily Telegraph, an anonymous airline staff member said, "She was all over him, and the crew was worried that, unless someone coughed, the pair would have joined the mile-high club."

Hurley's spokesperson denied that the incident happened, and wasn't even sure that the Austin Powers star was on the flight, but that didn't stop the tabloids from calling the carrier for comment.

In response, BA's (also unidentified) spokeswoman said, "We're delighted to see that British Airways' spacious flat beds in first class are being put to good use. It is a welcome example of how our unique flat beds offer not only great comfort, but room enough for two."

The comment wins PR Play of the Week for its honesty, humor, and blatant plugging of a company service. It's a great example of a candid and creative response to a tough PR situation. A similar example occurred in late April, when Wal-Mart communications VP Mona Williams reacted to sexual harassment allegations that the company's managers conducted staff meetings at Hooters restaurants by saying, "We might have a knucklehead out there who thinks that's OK to do. But that's not who we are or how we think."

Both responses lend an air of accessibility to their organizations, and diffuse a potentially difficult situation without ignoring it. By not glossing the issue and staying on track with the company's message, the press and public see the company in a much better light than if the spokesperson had said, "We're looking into it," or, even worse, "No comment."

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