United Airlines PR crisis: What went wrong and how to rebuild a positive image

Have you ever been pumped up to go on vacation, only to get to the airport gate and be told your flight is overbooked? Well surprisingly, it happens all too often. Airlines typically overbook flights frequently due to the assumption that not all passengers who booked a flight will actually show up.

The question then becomes, what if everyone who booked seats shows up, but now there are not enough seats for everyone who paid? What does the airline do? What should they do? This may seem like a recipe for disaster, and that’s exactly what recently happened with one of the biggest airlines in the United States, United Airlines.

Social media went into a frenzy over the weekend, when a viral video showed members of security physically and violently dragging a passenger off of a flight due to both overbooking and the need for open seats for airline employees to board.

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While new details continue to make headlines about what actually transpired, newer footage continues to surface, and many flyers bash the company and vow to never fly with United again. Here are some ways United Airlines could turn this corporate public relations crisis around quickly:

  1. Due to the 24-hour news cycle, time is crucial. Therefore, a public and personal apology should have come immediately and appropriately.
  2. United should take full responsibility and inform the public of their mistake, and how they plan to implement a new strategy on how to fix their booking system to avoid this happening again.
  3. United should refund all passengers on board whom may been affected; this shows a sincere concern and customer service awareness.
  4. United should also utilize all of their social media platforms to inform the public and stakeholders about their mistake and tactics they plan to utilize to get back in the public eye in a positive way
  5. And lastly, United should continue to check in on the harmed passenger and inform the public that passengers are the top priority, and that United is a safe, welcoming airline that values all passengers.

There are many different tactics and useful suggestions that United Airlines could utilize as they go through this public relations crisis. As larger corporations face public relations crises, it is essential that companies have ready-made contingency plans in the event that a crisis may occur—time is crucial. This case shows how important it is for brands to maintain positive, clean images, and how hard it is to get back into the public sphere once a brand has been weakened.

This blog post was written by PRowl Account Associate Miya Fredericks. 

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