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JAL Restores Profitability While Risking Passenger Safety

On May 8, a Japan Airlines flight from New York to Tokyo made an emergency landing in Sapporo, Japan. The Boeing 747, carrying 355 passengers, lost cabin pressure and went into rapid descent. There were no reports of injuries, but the incident was the latest blemish on the airline's safety record. In January, a JAL flight attempted to take off from a Korean airport before obtaining clearance from air traffic controllers. In recent months, Japan's transport ministry has issued reprimands to the airline for operating a flight without working escape slides and for repairing landing gear on a plane using the wrong parts.

On May 9, JAL's chair Isao Kaneko announced his resignation, and the airline admitted it had focused too much attention on punctuality at the expense of safety. A JAL internal analysis of recent incidents blamed increased emphasis on on-time performance and a fall in overall safety awareness. The airline has promised to refocus attention on safety.

JAL lists five basic principles in its mission statement. The first is to prioritize safety and quality. The second is to think and act from their customers' standpoint. Both are noble . But apparently, while trying to think like its customers, JAL believed they would rather arrive on time than have the airline take precautions to ensure that they arrive safely.

Perhaps customers and employees will forgive JAL's leaders for these safety indiscretions--after all, the leaders were only trying to please passengers with on-time service. But, in the same press release announcing Kaneko's resignation, JAL reported a 10 percent growth in revenue and a return to profitability. Clearly, on-time performance is more profitable than safety.

I'm willing to bet, if JAL had asked their customers what they were really thinking, passengers would have preferred arriving safely to arriving fast. But more importantly, to truly Live By the Values They Profess, organizations must adhere to all of their values, not just those that help turn a profit.
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