We're still flying, despite loss of MH370

BRITTANY RUPPERT, TIM BARLASS
Last updated 14:26 24/03/2014

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Feverish public speculation about the fate of flight MH370 does not appear to have deterred air travellers but experts warn the drawn-out search may damage the reputation of Malaysia Airlines.

Haydn Long, a spokesman for travel retailer, Flight Centre, said volumes had remained steady, with Malaysia Airlines ticket sales still ''faring well''.

''People just want to know what happened to the aircraft, and they're waiting for answers before they make any judgments about the airline,'' Long said.

Crisis communications expert Hamish McLean said the airline had handled the situation well so far, but the task would become tougher each day in what has become the longest disappearance of a passenger jet in modern aviation history.

''Malaysia Airlines is facing an unprecedented challenge,'' he said. ''The textbook has run out.''

Long said he believed Malaysia Airlines would maintain its good reputation and market share, citing the example of the United Airlines flights involved in the September 11 attacks.

''United bounced back from that disaster and remains one of the world's most popular airlines,'' he said.

''I predict the same will hold true for Malaysia Airlines.''

A senior source at Malaysia Airlines, who asked not to be named, said most flights were at a comfortable level of profitability and that he was not aware of any flights being cancelled.

''We've had genuine cancellations but nothing to do with MH370. This is the low season - there's a seasonal load factor and we make up during the peak season when more people will travel,'' he said.

McLean said speculation and fearmongering were the main threats to Malaysia Airlines' reputation.

He said the airline must provide regular and consolidated information to everyone involved if it wished to control this threat.

''There's frustration as people look for answers, so the airline will require tremendous leadership and strength if it hopes to keep its good reputation afloat.''

Head of aviation at Central Queensland University Ron Bishop said the public's concern was not about the safety-record of the airline but about the peculiarity of the missing flight.

''If Malaysia Airlines had another incident like this in the near future, its reputation would be destroyed,'' he said.

''Twice is a trend, but at the moment this is a one-off freak accident. It's an unprecedented situation and people aren't willing to accept a mystery, they want answers.''

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