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How United Should Have Handled the Situation

April 11, 2017

Firstly, let me state that United was being ridiculous to kick off a paying passenger from their flight. They should have offered more and more money until passengers willingly disembarked. When the man said that he was a doctor and needed to see patients, they should have treated that like an emergency and randomly selected again, although they should never randomly select passengers to get kicked off in the first place. They should never have called security and essentially assaulted a passenger. These items are obvious. What I’m writing about today is how United should have handled this situation after-the-fact.

Step 1: Show Empathy

Here’s a newsflash to United CEO, Oscar Munoz: dragging a limp body is more impactful than a yelling customer! This passive statement that seems to imply a ‘re-accommodation’ makes up for what happens is ridiculous.

Instead, they should have opted for something real. You have to own this. The statement needed to echo that you understand this man’s pain and how he was violated as a result of opting to fly with your company. He did not expect anything unreasonable when he calmly got onto his flight to go home. His only real expectation was that he would actually get to go home. Instead, he was asked to leave his flight and then forcibly disembarked, resulting in obvious injury and humiliation. Emphatically condemn the actions taken and promise a full investigation, justice for the victim, and real changes in company policy. It should have read something like this:

It should have read something like this:

We were appalled by an incident on a recent flight. Our customers’ interests, comfort, and safety are items that we take very seriously and what happened does not reflect our culture here at United. Along with others, I will personally look into this incident and make sure that appropriate actions are taken. My sincerest apologies go out to this man and I promise to take steps to ensure that this never happens again.

Step 2: Correct a Business Practice

The next step is to correct an issue within the company that led to this incident. If overbooking flights and then kicking off passengers to make room for their employees is a thing, make it not a thing! It’s really that simple. Get everybody that’s necessary into a room and hammer out a solution. Then, issue a statement about how you’ve changed a company policy to make sure that customers will never be forcibly disembarked every again.

Step 3: Over-compensate the Hurt Party

Guess who should get an offer of elite status and free flights for life? That guy! It’ll cost you a lot less than the lawsuit is guaranteed to and its equity in the public space has some real value. Some people will call it out as an obvious ploy not to get sued but, nobody can deny the value there. It is a ploy but it’s providing real value for someone who was wronged in a very public way. Nobody should get kicked off but he should fly domestically for free and eligible for upgrades for always. Sometimes overreaction is the proper action. There was an article that suggested that United lost $800 million in value following this. Giving one guy the equivalence of $1 million over his lifetime doesn’t seem so bad after reading that, does it?

united airlines fight club meme

Memes overtaking the internet showcase the severity of the impression made

Step 4: Promise it Won’t Happen Again

Here’s something that’s more obvious. Promise that it won’t happen again. Now that you’ve actually taken steps to correct the business practice, you’re also going to work on training employees. You’ve officially taken away all of the elements that led to this. Customers can rest assured that the wronged party has been taken care of and they will NEVER have to fear this happening. If there is someone that needs to be terminated, do it. I’m not sure of everyone’s role in this incident but any employee that directly contributed should find themselves looking at Indeed.com this week.

Step 5: Show Goodwill

Remember when WestJet did that awesome real-time gifting program? Yeah…it’s time for United to re-establish some goodwill. Get creative and don’t be too transparent with what you’re doing. People hate airlines and, right now, United is in the public’s crosshairs. They need to appreciate that and realize that proactively showcasing that you care about customers and the communities as a whole is the only way to fix that. Actions, not words, can repair their damaged reputation.

Editor’s note: If you’re going to send an email to your entire company, make sure that you’re ready for it to be public. Somebody will forward that to the press. The email that Mr. Munoz sent to United employees only echoed how tone-deaf he seems to be to the situation and its potential implications.

As a professional, I want to send out a hug to the poor social media manager that is trying to manage this crisis while being pulled in every direction from the management team.