The David Politis Company | No Thanks, I Don’t Want the Head PR Job at United Airlines
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No Thanks, I Don’t Want the Head PR Job at United Airlines

12 Apr No Thanks, I Don’t Want the Head PR Job at United Airlines

Three nights ago, mobile phone video surfaced showing a passenger being forcibly removed from his seat on a United Airlines jet. {NOTE: The images shown below are graphic, appalling and disturbing.}

 

 

The cause for the passenger removal? United had overbooked its flight and needed to get four employees to another airport in time for a flight the next morning.

When only two passengers accepted United’s offer of $800 to voluntarily take a later flight, the United personnel on the ground decided to arbitrarily force two additional passengers from the plane. And when one passenger refused to leave the plane, he was forcibly extracted from his seat, knocked unconscious in the process, and literally dragged off the plane.

As unfathomable as this decision and action was, it was matched by the following day by not one but two callous non-apologies issued by the United CEO, one disseminated internally to United employees and the other issued publicly.

The fallout from these attempts at corporate seppuku by United Airlines have been both swift and growing, as #UnitedAirlines and #UnitedAirlinesAssault began trending on Twitter almost immediately and the airline lost over $250 million in corporate value on Tuesday.

UGH! UGH! UGH!

Which leads me to a text message a got yesterday afternoon from a former client and now long-time friend, Karl Ryser, who wrote:

I’ve already written about Wells Fargo’s communications debacles in mishandling revelations that its employees created fake customer accounts to reap bonuses, so I won’t revisit that mess in this blog post.

But the United Airlines problems, that’s a brand new mess entirely and deserves its own consideration.

Case in point, this is how I responded to my friend’s text message:

Unfortunately, the problems at United Airlines go much wider and deeper than some idiot employees who decided that forcibly removing a passenger from a plane was a good idea. In fact, United’s problems go all the way to its boardroom, which means that the disease is systemic and is impacting everyone — its employees, partners, customers and shareholders.

When a CEO’s first reaction is to praise his employees for following policy to remove paying customers in favor of flying its own employees to a destination, then the priorities of that organization are completely out of whack.

If the United employee on the ground had continued to up the ante the company was willing to pay to get two additional people to volunteer to leave the plane for a guaranteed flight the next day, how high do you think they would have gotten before someone said “Yes?” $1,500? $2,500? $5,000?

Honestly, I don’t know. But depending upon the circumstances, I suspect that somewhere between $1,500 and $2,500 United would have had its volunteers and this entire brouhaha would have been avoided. Oh, and $250 million in corporate valuation would not have been lost.

To be clear, I recognize that stock prices are fluid and so there’s no guarantee that United’s share price won’t recover. But United will get sued for this act and it WILL lose, probably millions of dollars. Perhaps tens of millions.

In contrast, consider what Delta Airlines did over the weekend as it had to cancel thousands of flights due to bad weather challenges. It paid travel blogger, Laura Bloom, $11,000 in total to eventually cancel vacation plans for her family of three.

Is that a lot of money? Of course.

But Delta gained untold goodwill for this and similar reimbursement actions over the weather-fraught weekend.

In contrast, United’s got a corporate communications disaster on its hands.

So for me? No thanks.

Unless the United Board of Directors is interested in making me its CEO, nah, I don’t want to work in PR or marketing for United Airlines.

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What do you think? Am I off-base or en pointe here? Please share your thoughts / comments below.

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A marketing and communications expert, David L. Politis recently published his first book  —  66 RULES for Publicity Success: Boost Your Company’s Value for Pennies on the Dollar. David currently helps clients address their crises, publicity and marketing challenges through The David Politis Company.

 

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