UPDATE (4 p.m. ET): United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz on Tuesday offered the following statement via USA TODAY: “I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight, and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.”
ORIGINAL STORY: Anytime a company gets caught in the middle of a controversy, it has to react both quickly and thoughtfully to prevent public outrage. If it solely focuses on responding in a timely manner, the situation can snowball out of control, as United Airlines is learning the hard way.
People ripped into United on social media Monday for how the airline responded to a video that surfaced showing a customer bleeding as he’s being dragged off United Express Flight 3411, according to The Washington Post.
United reportedly wanted to put four crew members on the flight from Chicago to Louisville, so it asked for volunteers to give up their seats, but was forced to draw names at random when nobody offered. The man in the video wouldn’t leave when his name was selected, saying he was a doctor and needed to see patients in the morning.
The company actively responded to comments about the incident on Twitter throughout Monday, but its 140-character responses were full of corporate jargon, which only added fuel to the fire.
When United CEO Oscar Munoz released his statement in the afternoon, rather than show actual remorse, he reaffirmed the company’s inability to identify what people were so upset about:
This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.
Both Munoz and United’s social media director began their responses by apologizing for “having to re-accommodate these customers,” but failed to accept any responsibility for what happened to the customer in the video. However, this stopped being an issue about an “overbook situation” the second authorities boarded the flight to remove that passenger.
While we understand companies have to maintain some sort of corporate standard for the language representatives can use in crisis situations, only using buzz makes them seem apathetic. Considering United’s social media team has a history of making matters worse by reacting before the company can coordinate a measured response to a situation, we’d say the company has a lot to learn about public relations in the digital age.
Thumbnail photo via United Airlines