Apr 10

United, Just Stop

United Airlines, stop. Just stop. You’re only making the indefensible worse.

United Airlines once again takes over the headlines as the world’s most hated/least trusted corporation for the second time in a week. And they did that in spectacular fashion straight out of Hollywood, with company goons dragging the bloodied, hapless victim…er, passenger, down the aisle as he screams helplessly, and terrified passengers watch, fearing that they’re next. Passengers inevitably manage to get video of the incident out before the plane doors are slammed shut and they are shipped out to Louisville. The unfeeling CEO of the corporation, far removed from the downtrodden victim, trots out the usual corporate doublespeak, full of nonwords that brush off the incident with empty promises of an investigation. Goes really well with United’s stated purpose of “being the airline customers want to fly, the airline employees want to work for and the airline shareholders want to invest in.” Really? Can’t you just see the trailer from the movie now?

Unlike the short-lived leggings controversy, this one is really going to hurt. It’s one thing to insist that employees and their families adhere to a dress code when flying on a discounted tickets. It’s another thing entirely to bodily drag a passenger from a plane – someone who paid United to safely convey him from Chicago to Louisville at a specific day and time, and then brush it off as a “re-accommodation.” More like a “re-assault,” given the state of airline travel these days and travelers’ experiences.

So here’s some advice: Stop with the canned, lawyer-vetted corporate-speak. You are making this worse for everyone, including yourself. No matter what the Supreme Court says, corporations are not people. Corporations will never get the same level of trust that people will give to other people, so you need to stop shredding what little you have with statements crafted with lawyers designed to insulate you from other lawyers. Your hair-splitting in your terms printed in magnifying glass print on your website means nothing in terms of your corporate reputation. If you want to survive this, you’ve got to completely rethink how you operate. For instance, just listen to yourself:

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United.”

You’re upset? Gee, I wonder how your poor passenger felt?

“I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

There’s nothing “accommodating” about this. Period.

“Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.”

So you’re going to look for something that excuses what you did? Nice.

“We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”

OK, so now you’re getting around to acknowledging that someone besides United was involved. We were wondering when you were going to get around to mentioning the fact that SHOULD have been the first thing out of your mouth. And where’s his apology for your abysmally poor behavior?

See how this bad this sounds to air travelers? Assaulted by airline goons for not giving up the seat he bought and paid for? Dragged bodily down the aisle of the plane? And a minority as well, in a time when it seems the entire US government is waging war on those who aren’t fortunate enough to be white males. The situation couldn’t have happened at a more perfectly horrible moment – reverting to corporate speak is only going to make it irredeemable. Mr. Munoz, you need to fix it, and being a real human – and not a corporation – is the only way. You must have PR experts on staff – listen to them. Let them guide you through this. Make sure they’re in the room when policies on handling overbooked flights are developed. And in the future, remember that you are not in the airline business. You are in the business of safely getting people where they need to go. And that does not involve being the danger they have to survive to get there.

Oh, yes, don’t let Pepsi talk you into making a joint commercial, K? K.

For those who need step-by-step directions, Rebecca Thiem has an excellent explanation on how to handle problems at “PR Can’t Fix Stupid.”

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