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Crisis communication plan for Chinese Eastern Airline

Crisis communication 
May 2022
Gradschool group project  


In April 2022, a China Eastern Airlines flight, MU5735, crashed into a hillside in southern China, resulting in the tragic loss of all 132 individuals on board. According to state news agency Xinhua, investigators were working to recover data from the plane's two black boxes, despite their severe damage. However, there was no press release or public communication strategy implemented in the two weeks following the incident. As a result, our team was tasked with developing a crisis communication plan on behalf of China Eastern Airlines to effectively communicate with external stakeholders.

Solution design process

After we decided on the China Eastern airline case that we would work on, we quickly generated the problem-solving steps for the issue and the scope of our case. 

Crisis Background investigation

Background Information

Facts & Features

Crisis evaluation


Crisis and stakeholders

Crisis response plan





Background research

Based on our extensive research, we have distilled our findings into a concise version of our marketing research. This summary provides valuable insights and enables our audience to quickly understand the key facts of the case.


Established in 1988, China Eastern Airlines has become the second biggest airline of the People’s Republic of China, and regarded as one of its “Big Three” airlines. 


At its peak revenue in 2018, it was bringing in $17.42B. The number has since dropped to just under $7B, likely due to pandemic stress


Despite a string of crashes in its early days, until now China Eastern had not had a fatal crash since 2004. 

​Features and facts

In the midst of a crisis, gathering relevant information and facts is crucial in order to understand the situation and develop an effective response. Once the bigger picture has been sorted out, identifying key features and facts of the crisis can provide important details that can inform decision-making and help mitigate further damage.

It's important to note that crisis communication differs from other types of communication in that timing is critical. Delays in communication can lead to confusion and escalate the crisis, while prompt and transparent communication can help to build trust and minimize negative consequences. Therefore, it's important to have a well-prepared crisis communication plan in place that outlines key messaging, channels of communication, and a clear timeline for disseminating information.

  • Around 2:17pm on March 21, Flight 5735 from Kunming to Guangzhou was cruising at 29,000 feet when air traffic control began to notice a sudden rapid loss in altitude.

  • Several attempts to contact the plane were unsuccessful, and by 2:23pm the plane’s radar signal was gone. The plane plummeted more than 20,000 feet in 72 seconds, nosediving into a remote mountainous area.

  • All 123 passengers and 9 crew members are deceased. This is the deadliest plane crash in China since 1994 when 160 people died on a China Northwest flight

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Post-Crash Timeline


March 25

March 27

March 28

The first blackbox was found three days after the crash

The second blackbox was found five days after the crash

Both blackboxes were sent to Washington, DC to be analyzed.


30 days



Now (April)

The PRC government claims the preliminary investigation should be completed within 30 days of the crash

Insurance companies have paid out $2.3 million to the families of 14 victims so far.

It’s been three weeks since the crash, with no official response from China Eastern

Crisis Evaluation

In part two of the project, we conducted an evaluation of the crisis in order to define its type, goal, and stakeholders. This was a crucial step in developing an effective strategy to address the crisis. By clearly understanding the scope and nature of the crisis, we can determine the most appropriate course of action and identify the key stakeholders who need to be involved in the response. Moving forward, this evaluation will serve as a foundation for developing a comprehensive strategy that takes into account the unique characteristics of the crisis and the needs of all involved parties.

Type of Crisis


Accident Crisis 

Technical Error


Addressing that the crash, though the cause is currently unclear, was entirely unintentional and not a result of company misdeed or action.


Victim Crisis



Ensuring the crash does not become associated with China Eastern’s brand, and quashing any potential rumors or accusations that might further damage the company.



China Eastern should reassure the families of the victims and express condolences and sympathy to the victims and their families


China Eastern should dispel customers’ doubts and to rebuild public trust to China Eastern


China Eastern should mitigate the potential legal action brought by families of the victims and potential blowback should the results of the blackboxes reflect negatively on China Eastern

Define Stakeholders

It is crucial for our team to identify and communicate with all relevant stakeholders during a crisis to ensure they are informed, engaged, and their needs are being addressed.

Families of the Victims

The primary stakeholders are the victims’ families and relatives. China Eastern Airlines needs to comfort families emotionally and provide an adequate compensation plan.


Such a serious accident will decrease customers’ trust in traveling with China Eastern. China Eastern should prioritize rebuilding customer trust in China Eastern’s safety measures.

Crisis Response Plan

In this phase, our team has a well-defined understanding of the project, and the objectives have been established. The focus of Part 3 is to develop the framework and corresponding strategies, with a particular emphasis on crisis communication. Effective communication with our stakeholders during a crisis is of utmost importance and therefore, we are employing crisis communication strategies to ensure effective and transparent communication with them.

Strategy Guidance

(Next 3 months)

  • Comfort the public and families of victims


  • Remind customers of our safety standards


  • Present ourselves as sympathetic and taking action, despite being a victim of unfortunate circumstance

(1 year)

  • Protect reputation and rebuild trust

  • Finalize all compensation agreements

  • Improve overall safety standards and crisis training

To rebuild trust with the public, China Eastern should remind the public it has an excellent record of flying safely with our passengers for the past decade, as well as its excellent quality of services for customers


  • To quash rumors and mitigate legal action, China Eastern should emphasize the crash was unexpected with no potential problems beforehand.

  • The crew members were highly qualified

  • No problems were detected with the model of plane

  • No severe weather conditions and no indication of potential issues

To reassure families and show sympathy, China Eastern should provide care and support for all victims and their families. We could tell the story of each passenger and offer our condolences.
  • To mitigate legal action and show sympathy for the families, China Eastern should provide an adequate compensation plan for the families of the victims.

    • According to Chinese regulation, the maximum compensation amount is $62,000. We suggest China Eastern follow the Montreal Convention which the maximum compensation amount is $172,000.

Compensation Side Bar

Compensation is a tricky issue that we need to mention  in the plan but we also need to full preparation for the challenge that could happen 

Why this is private

  • Families don’t want to put a pricetag on their loved one’s life

  • We don’t want bad press or blowback from potential disagreements

  • No one answer will satisfy public opinion

What we’ll say

  • We’re following guidelines set by other institutions

  • The major compensation package came from life insurance plan

  • We’re paying more compared to govt. regulations

The risks

  • Families could disclose the amount or air grievances publicly to the press

  • Public sentiment of China Eastern worsens


Official statement

Based on the strategy that we previously discussed, our official statement aims to convey our condolences to the victim and offer comfort to their bereaved families through various methods. These methods include the use of gentle reminders to express our sympathy and support, expressions of ingratiation to acknowledge the gravity of the situation, and the use of defensible language to ensure that our message is clear and appropriate for the circumstances. By utilizing these methods, we hope to convey our deepest sympathies and offer solace to those who have been affected by this tragedy.

Press strategy


Social Media 

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Action Items

What actions does China Eastern airline need to take? We also give the actionnplan here. 

Complying with new guidance

Working on 
compensation agreements

Strengthening safety protocols

Decoding Blackboxes

Funding memorials

Media reference 

In preparation for potential media inquiries, we have developed appropriate solutions to address any questions or concerns that may arise.

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