United We Fall

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Published on April 12, 2017, at 5:04 p.m.
by Josh Downey.

United Airlines is currently facing a crisis that will be remembered by all public relations professionals. Security guards forcibly removed a customer from a flight leaving from Chicago and heading to Louisville, Kentucky, on April 10, 2017. The story has gone viral on social media and news outlets.

The story goes that United overbooked the flight by four seats and was offering incentives to customers to take a later flight to accommodate seats for its employees. The reward quickly moved from $400 to $800, and United was still a seat or two short.

United decided to implement a random selection lottery to pick who the last person to get off the flight would be. The person chosen was a doctor with appointments early the next morning in Louisville. The doctor refused to get off the flight because of his appointments and security was called.

This is where it goes from bad to worse. The security team physically dragged the doctor out of his seat after he refused to leave. Multiple videos from eye witnesses show the doctor getting thrown into an armrest and dragged off. Later, the doctor returned to the plane and was seen visibly bloodied and seemingly confused.

Photo by United Airlines

This incident has turned into a massive public relations crisis for United Airlines. It is trending all over Twitter and Facebook and seems like it has yet to be handled properly by the airline. The backlash caused by the video is widespread and can be seen on social media, which is exploding with comments from users saying they will never fly with United again.

United Airlines issued an apology,  but it was more of a non-apology. The so-called apology only apologized for overbooking the flight. It did not show any remorse for how the situation with the customer was handled.

The whole problem could have been avoided if United decided to take care of the overbooking situation before it let people on board. Per United’s Denied Boarding Compensation section of its rulebook, all oversold flights are to be dealt with before passengers can board. Once on the plane, a passenger is not supposed to be removed due to an oversold flight as they are already on board. So essentially, in this situation, United broke its own code and rules.

This whole situation has gotten messy for United. It may get even messier if the injured customer decides to file suit for compensation for his maltreatment. Initially, the public relations team for United did not issue an actual apology to the customer who was affected.

Photo by AP

On April 11, 2017, the CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz issued an apology.

“Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard,” Munoz said. “I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.” United is finally moving to right its wrongs but it may be a little late.

This situation was handled poorly, but we are buckled in to see where United will go from here. For a company with the slogan “Fly the Friendly Skies,” I am not sure if I would consider it very friendly.

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