There is so much wrong with United having a passenger dragged from an overbooked plane that it’s difficult to know where to start. But when looking at how to handle communications in a crisis, there are several issues that are immediately apparent:
- United has problems. A crisis often reveals underlying problems and as a frequent flyer of United (my home airport is Newark, so I have no choice), I am painfully aware of them. There are systemic issues with the airlines, from the age of planes to dated, inconsistent and often horrific customer service. These things reveal themselves in crises and it’s tough to hide.
- They did not evaluate this situation very well. That may be the understatement of the century. Before you respond to a crisis, you need to understand what you’re responding to, and United’s weak first statement showed they clearly did not understand two things. One, that an airline brand is about customer service and this was as bad as it gets, and, two, what public opinion, especially on social media, was saying about them. This brings me to the third issue.
- Social media has changed the speed and dynamics of crisis response. You may feel like you’re in a different generation when you fly United, but they have the resources to employ competent public relations people who should be able to evaluate public opinion on social media and respond appropriately and in a timely fashion.
- Finally, you have to choose the right words. I was shocked (not upset, not saddened) to see their initial statement. “They” are upset? What about the passengers? And they “re-accommodated” passengers? Inventing nonsensical words is only the tip of the iceberg, and that goes back to problems one through three – United has problems and is out of touch.
Before I hang up my Mileage Plus account and begin a monogamous relationship with Delta for domestic flights (and maybe even try American), I am hoping this is the wake-up call United needs.
And hey Oscar Munoz, my PR firm and thousands of others are competent, available and would never put you in this situation.