Comment: United Airlines…..Clubbed
Customer relations disaster as bloodied passenger is forcibly ejected from over-booked flight
In terms of attracting bad publicity it’s hard to outdo United Airlines – slogan “Fly the Friendly Skies” – who have forcibly ejected a paying passenger from an over-booked flight, leaving him bloodied and irate.
Footage of the incident went viral showing the passenger, thought to be a Vietnamese doctor who lives in the US, bleeding from the mouth and repeating “Just kill me” after being removed from his seat by security personnel. Bloodstains were filmed on the armrests of other passengers’ seats – left as he was dragged down the aisle.
The footage has brought social media wags out in force to re-write United’s slogan for them, with offerings including:
“If we cannot beat our competitors, we beat our customers.”
“Board as a doctor, leave as a patient.”
“We put the hospital in hospitality.”
“We’ll seat you, then we’ll beat you.”
“Though our prices are unbeatable, we can’t say the same for our passengers.”
“Please turn off your cellphones, we don’t want video evidence.”
One Tweeter asked United if they could transfer its frequent flyer points to their ex-partner, while another posted the airline’s logo with bloodstains dripping down it.
The real lesson from this fiasco comes from the less than placatory reaction of United’s CEO Oscar Munoz (right). He has faced heavy criticism after failing to apologise for the way the customer was treated after refusing to get off the flight. Munoz said in a statement that the passenger had “defied” security officers.
”We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to US$1,000 in compensation),” Munoz commented. “When we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions.”
Munoz said he “emphatically” stood behind his employees who had followed procedures in ejecting the passenger, who later got back on board the flight.
In terms of effective public relations, his statements recall those of former BP CEO Tony Hayward who was roundly criticised for saying “I’d like my life back” after dealing with the oil rig explosion that killed 11 people and led to major pollution on the Louisiana coast in 2010.
Interestingly the bad publicity has not affected United’s share price, but it is still a potential customer loyalty disaster. Rival carrier Southeast has been quick to take advantage of the situation, posting on social media: “We beat the competition. Not you.”