United Airlines – a Reputation Disaster

By | 12/04/2017

It has been a horrible week for communicators at United Airlines, when the overbooking of a plane led to a PR disaster (likely the biggest “shit storm” ever in the airline industry – so far). When the airline tried to place a crew on a fully booked flight from Chicago to Louisville it started to look for volunteers who would leave the plane (boarding was already finished). But instead of using incentives such as a free upgrade, bonus miles or other benefits, it went for a random draw… and the rest of the story is quickly told, involving a resistant passenger (doctor who had to visit a patient), three giant security officers and lots of people filming the brutal handling of the passenger on their mobile phones:

You can imagine the outcry on social media when the first videos went viral, and the PR disaster developed, yet fueled by another helpless attempt by the airlines’ CEO (referencing the need to “re-accommodate” passengers) to explain what actually happened.

On social media a competition launched – looking for the best-fitting new United Airlines motto, using the hashtag #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos. That is when United Airlines lost all control over the issue, as it had forgone all credibility and influence. The airline’s stock price dropped by about 5% (=$1.4b) after the public outcry, pressuring CEO Munoz to again try himself at an apology (3rd attempt now):

In the meantime the motto competition on Twitter and Facebook continues. Check out a few of the now hundreds of ideas:

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