United Airlines: Welcome Aboard (Until You’re Not…)

The power of images should never be underestimated, particularly by businesses. Images are easily associated with brands and they stick to the minds of consumers. This is why companies have massive budgets for advertising campaigns and departments dedicated to public relations. As United Airlines has learned far too late, sometimes disaster control is necessary to save face in light of harmful images. Unfortunately for them, the most important actions are at times reactions and theirs left far too much to be desired.

United Airlines

Consumers do not need to purchase goods or services from a company to develop an opinion about them. In today’s world, information technology spreads images and words to billions of people instantaneously, shifting the power dynamic in the favor of the public. The video taken by United passengers of David Dao’s limp body being dragged through the isle with a bloody mouth is disturbing. This is how we, as consumers, will associate the United Airline brand and customer service. Regardless of whether it was employees on United’s payroll or not, the company did a piss poor job of handling the situation. Spending significant amounts of dollars to motivate a person to vacate the seat would have clearly been a worthwhile investment compared to money and effort needed to regain any salvageable brand sentiment. They will be feeling the impact of these images for time to come.

As I said, United should have incentivized the compliance of their customers to the point where there were nothing but satisfaction in the resolution of the dilemma. Since that was the farthest thing from what happened, disaster control needs to rise to the occasion. The leader of the business, the CEO, who is (in essence) the embodiment of the company, had this to say:

It is infuriating to see the verbiage used in this Tweet. “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers” is an eloquent way of saying ‘sorry, not sorry’. The public isn’t upset you overbooked a flight and had to move people around; the public is upset because you smashed a man’s face into the chair and dragged his body off the plane to do it. It is a spineless and cowardice response to a basic humanitarian oversite. People, not to mention customers, are entitled to a higher standard of treatment as well as a compassionate response to mistreatment. Consumers expect a genuine and authentic response which accepts responsibility and promises resolution. Of course, if that were the anticipated reaction to the given situation, perhaps it wouldn’t have arisen in the first place.

This event has major implications for a wide ranging tangled web across the world. United’s mistreatment of the situation is one thing; the CEO’s response sends a comparably potent signal. They are signaling that their agenda reigns supreme, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to enforce it regardless of the impact it has on customers. Who is going to jump to the defense of the United Airlines brand? There is nothing that can force us to un-see the footage or unread Oscar’s Tweet. This is all seen as a representation of the United brand, as well as an extension of the airline industry, and the country they are operating in. Fortunately for consumers, and unfortunately for United’s bottom line, every individual party has the opportunity to determine the acceptability of the airline’s actions and cast their dollar votes for who they deem most righteous.

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Photo Credit: Pexels

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