United Airlines; The greatest example of what NOT to do during a PR Crisis


By now I am sure the majority of you have heard the news about United Airlines and the unfortunate incident involving one of their passengers being forcibly removed from one of their planes.  The entire scandal is awful but what is worse is the way it was handled by United Airlines.

When dealing with a PR crisis to this degree, the initial response is crucial in successfully remedying the situation. In this case United Airlines escalated the issue by first blaming the incident on an “overbooking issue” which was later found to be untrue. Later, United CEO Oscar Munoz issued a statement that only apologized for “having to re-accommodate” customers. In my opinion both of these responses neglected to show concern for the passenger and only further ruined their reputation as an airline.

In circumstances like this I believe it’s easy to forget basic problem-solving skills. I believe United Airlines was too caught up in not wanting to be blamed for the incident that it failed to remember these skills. The communicators involved with this issue should have taken a step back to first recognize how any of them would feel as a customer in this situation and then speak to the public as if each of them were a potential customer.

Beginning with a sincere apology, moving onto addressing internal issues truthfully and resolving the issue with that particular passenger and then reassuring the public that the issue was resolved might have been a better approach. It’s a simple strategy, just address and resolve the issue honestly and with integrity. If the airline would have approached the issue with immediate concern for the passenger and steps to improve and prevent internal issues that may have caused the incident, they may have been able to flip the situation to something that could have actually benefited their company.

I hope that this situation can be a learning lesson for all professional communicators of how crucial it is to have a well-thought out plan for handling issues like these in the future.

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