Today the main trending topic on social media was a video showing a man being wrestled from his seat and dragged, by law enforcement officers, from a United Airline’s plane at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport because the airline had overbooked the flight.
United has said it is reviewing the incident. Frankly, that’s not good enough – you need to say sorry – now. The CEO apologized for having to ‘re-accommodate these customers,’ but he didn’t say sorry to the passenger assaulted on his plane. He said it was upsetting for the staff. What about the gentleman and passengers? If you watch the footage, caught by passengers on their cell phones, these people look genuinely shocked and concerned for the gentleman’s wellbeing.
The actions by those involved are bad enough, but why didn’t the CEO drop everything to meet with this man and apologize? It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t his staff that removed the passenger – it matters that it happened on his watch. The video has gone viral. There’s no stopping this one. The damage has been done. I don’t envy the PR team at United they have a tough challenge ahead.
Having run crisis communications for companies in the UK and the US my recommendation is to issue a statement, saying that the organization puts customers first and is appalled at the way this situation was handled. As well as launching an investigation into the matter I would have the CEO take full responsibility, given the incident occurred because his airline had overbooked the flight. This was a paying customer it’s not his fault that greed supersedes service. Then I’d have the CEO go on TV, do the morning shows, look the public in the eye, and say this will never happen again. I have no doubt that the passenger will appear on TV and in newspapers over the coming weeks to have his say about the matter. Damage limitations are all about a quick response, getting ahead of the story, and saying SORRY. Good luck United.