What We Can Learn From United Airline’s PR Crisis


Ah, the power of public relations.

The United incident earlier this year could be most certainly, considered, a public relations nightmare. In its wake of destruction, one such incident caused a downward trend in sales and has shined a glaring spotlight on their most minute and inconsequential of errors.

The thing with PR, is once you have lit the fire, everything you do or say becomes fuel…

For the rare one of you who has not aware, in a nutshell, an overbooked flight on United resulted in the forcible removal of a passenger, who went asked to give up his seat for a United crew member trying to reach a destination, refused.

A video went viral, showing the brutal and egregiously over-aggressive physical removal of the passenger.

The media had a full-fledged field day, and with the handy capabilities of the web, escalated this emergent crisis into an almost up-to-the minute display of the power of the people.

United’s slogan “Fly the Friendly Skies” took the hardest hit, with social media platforms sharing a slew of new and more “appropriate” slogans.

Flash forward to a United brand, currently suffering from an image problem.

As we are not their well-paid PR team, we will not attempt to offer suggestion at the fixing of the problem, but we can look at what we may learn, as small business owners, from this branding bombshell.

Possibly the biggest lesson here, is that the way we treat our customers is no longer a private exchange. Our infinite means of communication these days allow bad (and good!) messages to spread like wildfire, conquering continents with a speed we have not seen before.
Another of what was viewed as their major gaffes was the way their CEO redirected the blame on to the victim, attempting to stand by his brand. Later, he did indeed issue the apology, but the damage had been done.

As a business owner, when crisis unfolds, always remember that while you may not agree the customer is always right, you should dang sure be ready to apologize, no matter what. Even if you do not intend to refund the cost of a blender that was clearly misused, the conversation should still begin with “I am sorry…”.

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