United Airlines – A Communications Case To Be Forgotten

By Daniela Dalio

It has already been a year since the scandal were an United Airlines passenger was dragged out of the aircraft, which generated negative response for the airline company all over the world. It is one of the worst examples of communication and crisis management in the history of PR and  an example never to be followed.

Just for us to remember what actually happened: Due to an overbooking of the flight and the refusal of any of the passengers to voluntarily leave the plane, the company itself “elected” the passengers who would have to leave the aircraft. As one of the chosen passengers refused to comply, the crew called for assistance to remove the passenger by force. The drama was filmed and quickly spread on social media and all over the press.

The first responses from United Airlines, with the active participation of its CEO Oscar Munhoz, were disastrous and the defense of the employee involved and the forceful removal of the passenger. Rather ironically, this all occurred just one month after Munhoz having been elected as “Communicator of The Year” by PRWeek. Specifically for having a serious and transparent communication with the media.  

So, what went wrong this time? Not acting rationally. Moments of crisis affect everybody involved emotionally. However, it is entirely necessary that you act rationally, especially when we are talking about the main leaders of an organization. Declarations to the press guided solely by emotions should not be made. Here, the role of the communications professionals is extremely important, working consultatively and orienting towards the correct action.

A case such as that of United Airlines can ruin the credibility of a company forever. Years of effort are needed to create respect among consumers and clients. But it is enough with just one mistake, one wrongful attitude or speech, moved by emotion, for all that effort to go out the window.