Skip to main content

United Airlines failing in PR after Dragging Screaming Doctor off Plane

 Having just flown with United last week and having flown millions of miles with the airline, I'll admit that the recent video of an Asian medical doctor being dragged off the airplane (UAL 3411) screaming seemed excruciating from a PR perspective. The airline has always been good to me, but the last 72 hours has me a little bit grateful, my next flight, in about a week or so, is on American.

Making matters worse is that the incident has become the mockery of memes on Facebook and social media like this:

United Airlines Training Video

It's bad when it your crisis becomes news, it's another thing when you become the laughing stock of the internet (trending as #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos) It's happened before when United smashed the guitar of a famous musician. Then there's the suggestion that Twitter is proactively deleting posts. Meaning, the company is paying a staff of their own (or using automated software) to likely report and remove tweets as against Twitter's guidelines (many of them which probably aren't) to censor the negative response.

"not enough seating, prepare for a beating."
In the most professional way, what the hell, United? Passenger's are describing the incident as "disgusting".

This morning, an acquaintance of mine (and former journalist) is flying out from the airport and posted a picture on Facebook. Though, completely unrelated (it's an American flight), the post had several comments, indicating how far this public relations crisis has gone:
Less comforting is the thought of no maintenance. Or, seeing the police coming down the aisle and headed your way.
Occasionally the rubber band must be replaced. At least it's not United, you probably won't get a random beating.
Dear United, there is no going back from this. The only crisis response you can possibly put forth is getting this passenger in front of the camera, in a first-class ticket, with the president, Oscar Munoz, of the airline completely apologizing.  They need to change the narrative fast and by the looks of their response they're not prepared to or have the strategy to do so.

United has tried to make headway in the emerging Asian airline markets and the fact that this was a doctor who was Asian is not going over very well there. Chinese newspapers and social media have triggered a panic among passengers already fearful of the U.S. political climate. I'm white, American and fly regularly and I now live a certain level of fear that they're going to find a reason to ban my travels.

While bumping passengers do occur on oversold planes and United may have had procedural and a legal right to do what they did, the fact the passenger was boarded then removed, was their downfall. Further complicating the tragedy was that this was a doctor who needed to make the last flight out to reach patients at his destination. The bump, was to facilitate moving United's crew, propositioning them for the following day flights. All things that could have been logistically adjusted behind the scenes or prepared for in advance with an equipment change or calling in an alternate crew. In essence, United really made numerous mistakes that led up to what likely will be millions if not billions of dollars of revenue lost (update: is now billions with UAL stock dropping more than 4%) . More importantly, I've got to ask, where was the captain in all this? This was his aircraft and he had authority at the time.

So far, United has done little to publicly address the incident other than to say they're reaching out to the passenger. However, they've called the passenger "belligerent", in response, not helping the matter.
Now, I'm just hoping my flight out next week is without incident. I'll be crammed into the middle seat for a good three hours, just praying someone doesn't lose their composure.

Popular posts from this blog

Stranded by Uber's dysfunctional customer service

I was getting ready for my trip to India and my friend recommended that I download a couple apps for our trip, including Ola (a local Bangalore taxi company) and Uber. No worries, I thought. I was one step ahead of her having downloaded Uber for when in New York, as we were spending a few days there. I was quite excited to use the app considering the fact that there was a $20 credit sign-up bonus promotion going on. It seemed as though everything was falling into place as I was ready for our big adventure. I didn't bother with Lyft or the other competitors, knowing I had the Uber app on my phone and assuming since it's 2017, and a very popular option, it's going to work great. This as it turned out, would be a huge mistake that resulted in us taking the public bus at the airport.

What happened? Well, the first time I used the app, it immediately banned me. Thankfully, Bangalore has thousands of rickshaws that got me to and from our destinations. Had I downloaded Ola ahead …

Kuwait Airways, a case study.

I'll admit, I didn't plan on writing about Kuwait Airways' public relations. Initially, I reached out to them as preparation for a series of articles on India I was writing for another publication. My plan was to informally include the airline and to obtain press materials to accurately present the organization in the travel series. However, soon I found myself down the rabbit hole and into a communications Wonderland, vacant of actual outreach. The Mad-hatter experience felt like an interesting case-study which I felt was worth posting online. An experience that was both pleasantly surprising and completely frustrating from a PR perspective.
A few weeks ago, I needed to book the flight for an article I was writing on India. I came across Kuwait Airways who was offering idyllic rates on their fares from New York to Bangalore India. Working freelance, I'm always trying to keep costs down. The airline has a rocky reputation online with regards to their aging fleet prior…