Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand for the last week, you probably know that United Airlines is in chest-deep hot water.
On April 10, a passenger aboard United flight 3411 tweeted a video of another passenger being forcibly removed from the flight. The passenger was removed because the flight was overbooked, and no one had volunteered to leave the flight with waivers.
Obviously, that’s bad, bad, bad, bad customer service. But it’s an even worse public relations crisis.
This situation was avoidable.
This situation should have never gotten out of hand in the first place. When passengers didn’t volunteer to leave the overbooked flight, United employees should have simply kept upping the ante.
Sure, a $1,000 flight voucher might seem a little ridiculous. But it’s sure better than the stock crash and brand crisis they have on their hands now.
Corporate public relations is all about having as much control on the message and brand as possible. United and its employees lost control when they failed to secure voluntary passengers to leave the flight. They surely lost control when security forces had to be called aboard the flight.
A simple employee training could keep employees in the mindset of message and brand control so that the next time a situation such as this arises, employees are prepared to keep control.
No one was aware of the phone video.
One of the flight crew members should have easily thought how out of hand social sharing of this situation could have gotten. They really should have anticipated that when they saw multiple passengers take out their phones to video.
Again, it’s about control. The employees couldn’t control the passengers’ videoing, but they could have taken control of the situation so that video wasn’t necessary.
Don’t be so cold.
It’s no doubt that corporations can be seen as cold and stand-offish. United surely lived up to that stereotype in their first statement regarding the situation.
Instead of taking full blame and promising to fix the issue in a short, concise statement, United CEO Oscar Munoz made no appeal to the humanity of the situation. He simply apologized for the “overbook situation.”
Heads up, Oscar! No one cares anymore that the flight was overbooked. They care now about how the passenger was treated. That was clearly the case by the disgust in the remarks from other passengers in the tweeted video.
If a situation goes awry, the corporation or organization must be willing to take full blame. United simply didn’t until a later statement. That hurt them — big time.
In my humble opinion —
Right now, this is the big issue. Rightfully so. However, when this leaves the news cycle, people will still fly United. If someone is presented with a $400 ticket from Delta and a $275 ticket from United, you bet your bottom dollar that passenger is going to fly United. I know I would.
Yes — this has hurt United. No — United won’t go out of business. But they do have some work to do.
The United brand is hurting, and they’re going to need some big BandAids to fix the issue.