United (Airlines) We Stand

Just when you think nothing could possibly make a situation worse, especially from a PR point of view, you get United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz calling the passenger who was filmed being dragged off the plane by his staff ‘disruptive and belligerent’. Mr Munoz, if that had been me, it would have given you a whole new perspective on the concept of ‘disruptive and belligerent’.

Thank heavens for mobile phones and the internet. Within minutes the film of this violent and unseemly situation became a global PR disaster. United Airlines lost nearly $1billion in its value as shares plummeted (Pan Am anyone?). It then turned out that the passenger, who was wounded in the affray, is a 69 year old doctor. Really, at least grab a noisy teenager or a drunk who really might have been belligerent.

The reason for Dr Dao’s removal was that…the airline wanted his seat (that he had booked and paid for) for their…staff. Whatever instructions the United Airlines staff had had ( in court they might be say ‘we were only following orders’) it not only makes you concerned for their management strategy but also, as an air steward or even security bod, surely dragging a passenger from his seat can’t be covered in the airline’s HR policy or training manual.

Belatedly, as in horse, door and bolted, Oscar Munoz made a deep and profoundly sincere apology, one assumes to his shareholders for the fact that the airline had lost a massive amount of their money under his watch. This is in the most litigious nation in the world and I hope that Doctor Dao is working out how to spend his lucky lottery that will set him and his family up for life.

How can United Airlines recover from this? I have no idea. Michael O’Leary has been insulting his Ryanair passengers for years but despite this, we all use the airline for its super cheap flights. And as for POTUS- the worst possible PR in any presidential campaign and yet, he’s in the White House and threatening North Korea, the Russians and various other madmen throughout the world.

What can they do? Well, Americans love people who confess and redeem themselves in their eyes. They are readily welcomed back into the fold, especially after a mea culpa with Oprah. Unprotected sex when you know you are HIV positive with unsuspecting partners – Charlie Sheen welcome back. The debauched, decadent and fraudulent Jordan Belfort? Drug addicted, liar, bully and disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong? It’s a long list.

I would expect that United Airlines are planning massive advertising and PR campaigns as I write. They will have to show in a big way with fairly grand gestures how much they lurve their passengers, how their customer service is beyond belief (in a good way) cheapest air fares on the market, how much they donate to charities- lots of disabled passengers and so forth.

They could get through this and survive but they have to look very very sorry. Not sure about Oscar Munoz but he might already be lining up his next job, failed disgraced CEOs usually have enough friends in their networks to help them out when they have to jump ship.

I don’t think we’ve seen the last of United Airlines and I shall watch with interest how they manage vto crawl out of this particular massive big black hole. Lessons will be learnt, esepcially by me.