Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why the United Airlines PR team failed horribly



United Airlines…WHY am I writing about you again?! Ugh…I am in disbelief with this company, and my family and I are frequent fliers with them. My brow is furrowed with disbelief at the latest PR nightmare for United.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, this past Sunday, just before departure in Chicago, the passengers of United Express Flight 3411 headed for Louisville were told that the flight was “overbooked”. The announcement made stated that it was necessary for four people to volunteer to get out of their seats and leave so that crew members could make it on board to fly out of Louisville the next day.

When an incentive of $1,000 failed to get any volunteers to leave, United followed their protocol on this situation and used a random selection tool to pick passengers to leave the aircraft. Apparently, this protocol is in the small print when an individual buys their ticket. Right.

Before I even finish the recap – why did United stop at $1,000 for their incentive? There has to be a more customer-friendly approach to asking someone to change their plans last minute because the airline overbooked the flight. I’m curious if eventually individuals would volunteer to leave if the incentive had been better.

Anyways, three out of the four individuals that were randomly picked to get booted off the plane left peacefully. The fourth individual refused. When the airline attendants couldn’t persuade him to get off, they called in Chicago aviation authorities. And that’s when the bystanders whipped out their phones and hit record.

The fourth passenger, obviously not happy about getting kicked off the plane, refused to leave with the officers. As seen in many videos online, an ununiformed officer (I presume) is seen pulling the passenger out of the seat, dropping him on the ground where the passenger bangs his face on the seat and starts bleeding and is then seen being dragged down the aisle by his hands while bystanders are yelling in horror.  In some videos you can also hear the passenger saying, “I’m a doctor- I have patients I have to see tomorrow” as he is being dragged.

The video is honestly hard to watch. I understand that he was refusing to leave however, the way that they literally handled the passenger was disgusting. It was like they were dragging a bag of garbage to the dump, with no consideration that this is a human.



Ok, so at this point United should have went into crisis mode. The PR team should have been monitoring social media and should have seen how upset people were about the situation. Crisis mode should include a heartfelt apology, release of a specific plan for addressing the situation and mistake, clear communication with the front-line employees and a statement sent to frequent fliers.

However, what happened instead was an impersonal statement from CEO Oscar Munoz stating that he was sorry for having to re-accommodate customers and that he “empathetically” stood behind his employees. With no mention of the way that the passenger was treated, this statement made things even worse.

The United PR team must have realized that because in the next two days, the CEO apologized two more times.

Knowing when and how to shift into crisis mode when a situation like this occurs is important, and while United failed at that, moving forward, they need to work to restore trust with the public. I mean who would want to fly with an airline with fear they might get kicked off and dragged off?