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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.

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