It should have been clear to United Airlines just how serious their public relations situation had become when leftists rushed to decry the violence against United’s customer without even confirming that the poor man didn’t vote for Donald Trump.
Sunday’s incident, in which a passenger that refused to leave the plane was allegedly beaten senseless and dragged off the plane, is horrifying to everyone regardless of political leaning. This type of situation sets off a ripple effect amongst United’s current and potential customers — obviously, the man who was dragged off the plane a bloody mess felt it the most, but what about the other passengers? What are the odds there were some nervous fliers on board who were left desperately wishing they had packed an extra Xanax? Or worse yet, a first-time flier scheduled to depart this weekend who will now add assault to the pre-flight anxiety list?
The entire event is a catastrophic chain of errors that leaves us with more questions than answers. Have you ever heard of an overbooking situation being dealt with after everybody is on the plane? Isn’t that normally addressed before boarding? United’s response is that they had to clear seats for vital United personnel needed for flight operations in Louisville, Kentucky. Doesn’t that sound a bit like Ford telling a customer he can’t have his new car because an employee needed to drive somewhere? If passengers truly need to be removed to make space, why wouldn’t United just keep raising the compensation until the offer was taken? It might cost a little extra, but red ink is better than blood on the plane. Finally, a higher level question — in the age of new media, why would your protocols dictate taking actions that will almost always be captured and spread virally, killing your reputation on social media?
If all else fails, couldn’t they go to the Southwest counter with hats in hand and ask for a ride? To most sane businesses, it would even make more sense to hire a car and driver to transport these employees to Louisville, a roughly five-hour trip, rather than disrupt the flight experience of paying customers.
It also would have been tremendously cheaper, given what we know now. Based on the customer backlash, United executives probably wish they could board a plane for an exotic beach destination, although I bet some of them would book on a different airline to avoid any chance of an ER visit.
Even taking into consideration all of the awful events of Sunday, United Airlines could have significantly lessened the disastrous PR fallout if they had taken decisive action immediately. United CEO Oscar Munoz decided instead to put out one of the all-time bad PR statements,:
This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.
What’s worse than a complete PR meltdown including multiple videos of a bloody customer wandering around your airplane in a daze? Putting out a statement including a corporate-speak euphemism like “re-accommodate.” This phrase has proven to be the gasoline on the social media bonfire that was already in full swing on Sunday. Visit the social media platform of your choice and it will be impossible to avoid people making fun of this phrase. I’ve included some of our personal favorite examples:
when United "re-accommodates" you pic.twitter.com/fNlfwK9Xg2
— Reverend Scott (@Reverend_Scott) April 10, 2017
— MacCocktail (@MacCocktail) April 11, 2017
United Airlines is pleased to announce new seating on all domestic flights- in addition to United First and Economy Plus we introduce…. pic.twitter.com/KQjPClU2d2
— McNeil (@Reflog_18) April 10, 2017
United Airlines Releases new Customer Service Training Video. pic.twitter.com/ygq3SwDua5
— The Other 98% (@other98) April 10, 2017
— VRB (@vaidehibhagat) April 11, 2017
Mr. Munoz should have been smart enough to know that a crisis situation isn’t the time to introduce the American public to an organization’s own creepy internal lingo. Just last month he was named “U.S. Communicator of the Year” by PRWeek. That is irony not quite on the level of Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, but probably as close as we’ll come in our lifetime.
The statement Munoz released doesn’t make it clear that he actually thinks United did anything wrong. It’s like the special type of non-apology parents get from their teenage kids! If you don’t have kids, think about the way you used to apologize to your mom and dad if you didn’t think you were in the wrong, and then read the statement again.
Oscar Munoz is on the record saying President Trump’s plan for a border wall will be “damning and dangerous” for America, but he apparently has difficulty recognizing things that will damning and dangerous for United Airlines.
United should have responded to Sunday’s horrific incident with a commonsense set of actions designed to put their customers first. This would include an immediate suspension of every employee involved in the chain of command that resulted in a paying customer being dragged act of a plane while other passengers screamed (and, more importantly, filmed). Every passenger on that plane should have been given compensation in the form of free flights, United’s way of saying, “Let us show you we can fly you home to Kentucky without fisticuffs.” Secondly, a thorough and public review should be taking place to answer important questions like what role unions played in the incident, and if the flight crew was rushed to keep other flights on time.
Finally, Oscar Munoz himself should have been in Louisville on Monday to make a personal apology to the customer who was assaulted on the plane. On second thought, maybe this last point is a bad idea. If Munoz was to try to fly there on United, the airline would probably “re-accommodate” an unlucky customer for him, which might again set off the whole vicious cycle of assault and non-response.
Munoz has since offered a real apology, apparently coming from the school of better late than never public relations. Only time will tell if this is enough to help United’s public image, or their stock price, which was off more than one percent in trading today.
A part of me wonders if instead of fixing this fiasco, United should just roll with it and make violence a regular part of the friendly skies. They’d get huge attention on social media — every flight would be full of passengers with camera phones hoping to film the next re-accommodation. This could become a current year version of Shirley Jackson’s classic story “The Lottery.” Just think about it — if the passenger to be re-accommodated was announced as part of the safety demonstration, United could finally have the whole plane paying complete attention to the cabin crew.
Colin Madine is a contributor and editor at Breitbart News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org