Article by Marissa Kelly | esPResso Staff Writer
When it comes to airlines, passengers expect the utmost respect for their safety. Consumers want to be taken care of, knowing that they are in good hands as they are catapulted into the sky in a large transportation structure. Flying can be a scary thing, so when airlines are trying to attract potential flyers, they must be diligent in voicing their caring, sympathetic, and safety-first side.
United Airlines has never really struggled with this. In fact, last month United’s CEO Oscar Munoz was named PRWeek’s Communicator of the Year. With an award like this, one would assume United has a strong connection with its customers and making things click with its flyers. However, this past week, all of this changed. United now needs to switch their gears from celebrating to moving into crisis PR mode.
On Sunday, April 9, the crisis started in Chicago. On United Express Flight 3411 heading towards Louisville, the airline tried to accommodate room on the flight for a crew that was needed to depart from Louisville the following day. United offered several paying passengers aboard the flight up to $1,000 for their seats. When it became clear no passengers were accepting the various offers, at random, passengers were selected and instructed that they must leave the aircraft immediately. When one passenger onboard refused to leave, aircraft authorities were called and forced the man off the plane. The aggressive action was caught on camera, and then posted online. Next, the entire world was watching the debacle occurring on Flight 3411.
The video quickly went viral, throwing United’s trusted name brand and CEO Munoz’s superb communicator name under the bus. After viewing the video, it was the world’s turn to then watch how United was going to handle this PR crisis. Munoz received immediate backlash after his first comments, which backed the actions conducted by the crew and aircraft authorities. He noted that he “emphatically” supported all employees involved, stating, “I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.” This, naturally, left a poor taste in the public’s mouth.
On Wednesday, April 12, Munoz appeared on Good Morning America to speak on behalf of the scandal and in hopes to lend light on the situation at hand. He stated that he felt “shame,” about the actions that took place aboard Flight 3411. While Munoz’s latest claims have improved in comparison to his initial response, United still has a long way to go to overrule the impact the released footage has taken on the U.S and all of social media.
Only time will tell how United will choose to handle this situation. As for now, the incident has become ever present in the media, with updates on the battered passenger, as well as explanations toward how something so ridiculous could have happened. Potential flyers are awaiting United’s next move before booking their flights in order to feel comfortable, and safe, while flying again.