It was the scream heard around the world: A 69-year-old doctor yanked out of his seat on an overbooked flight, manhandled, and dragged off the plane by the airport police. As is now the norm, passengers whipped out their cell phones and filmed the incident like good citizen reporters.
Within hours, United was confronting a public relations nightmare. The images shared on social media were red meat to consumers, primed by personal experience to have a negative opinion of airlines in general.
As with the recent Uber scandals, consumers threatened to boycott the company and delete their United App, according to MarketWatch. Then came CEO’s apology, for “having to re-accommodate these customers.” This apology is about a common airline practice, not one man’s shocking experience. The statement ignores his obvious injuries. For consumers, the issue is not the possibility of getting bumped, something frequent flyers have come to expect. The real fear is the possibility of getting abused, humiliated, and hauled off the plane.
What’s more, this treatment of an Asian physician taps into racial sensitivities, with some people wondering whether police would have been as rough on a Caucasian senior. An event this extreme calls for a filmed apology, with the CEO directly addressing the incident, and his customers.
What should United have done? The basic tenets of crisis management listed below can help you contain a crisis and even turn a loss into a win: