United’s PR gaffe caused social media outrage.

United Airlines is garnering quite a bit of media attention lately, from TMZ to CNN. And then yesterday, a doctor was forcefully removed from a flight from Chicago to Louisville.

Now, I’m not going to talk about the incident itself, you can make your own opinions by watching the video here.

Instead, I’m going to focus on the aftermath and responses given by both consumers/customers and the company.

Consumers and other businesses were quick to judge (troll) the airline with a variety of social posts, many referring to Pepsi’s PR blunder last week.

Instead of apologizing, the CEO, Oscar Munoz made this statement:

The company did not apologize to the passenger. Munoz also said in a letter to United employees, “he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent.”

As a PR professional, I would never have recommended that statement be made for a couple of reasons:

  1. Blaming the victim will only garner more sympathy for the victim, which in and of itself isn’t bad, but when the sympathy comes in the form of attacking your company or organization, it’s a problem.
  2. There is video evidence of the passenger being dragged out of the plane. And in the circulating videos, it’s clear that the passenger is neither disruptive nor belligerent … but the security crew sure is.

United just gave all PR professionals a good briefing of how not to address a crisis. Instead, I would recommend:

  1. Apologizing to all parties, including the passenger.
  2. No victim blaming.
  3. Don’t deviate from what the evidence (videos) clearly show, as you will come off as untrustworthy.

Good luck United, you need it.

Update: United CEO apologizes and vows to fix things.

 

Do you think this is genuine communications? Or a reactive statement due to backlash? I’ll leave that up to you.