Why United will pay the price of shocking PR

United Airlines have been in the news a lot recently. Unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. P. T. Barnum once said that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” but it’s hard to argue that in this case.

We’ve all witnessed the shocking scenes of a distressed and bloodied passenger being forcibly removed from an overbooked flight earlier in the week.

That in itself was a shameful exercise to undertake given the passengers videoing it all from their Smartphones. So what next? The Marketing and PR department jumped off the proverbial cliff.

In a letter to employees, United Airlines Chief Executive, Oscar Munoz claimed the company had “followed established procedures” when removing the passenger from the plane because it was overbooked. He also called the passenger “disruptive and belligerent”.

When this email was leaked to the press it became a very poor error of judgement. Not only does it conflict with the mountainous video footage posted across the web but it also indicates that this is normal procedure – not something that will encourage people to book with United in the future.

Realising the damage (including the $255 million wiped off its market value), Mr Munoz issued an apology:

“The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.”

This incident is the most recent in a number of baffling PR and marketing errors made by United. Just last month the airline announced that it would ban women from wearing leggings on their flights as they do not conform to their dress policy.

United has a massive job on its hands to rebuild trust and convince people to book with them and “fly the friendly skies”.


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