On Sunday April 9, 2017, United Airlines faced, in my opinion, one of their worst PR situations to date. On flight 3411, which was traveling from Chicago, Illinois to Louisville, Kentucky, a man was removed from the flight with excessive force by police officers due to the fact that United overbooked the flight to accommodate four of their own employees who needed to be in Kentucky the next day for work purposes. United offered four passengers who decided to leave the flight a free hotel stay and compensation. No one took the offer. United then boosted the compensation. One couple took the offer and left willingly with no force. United then went on to a “random selection” and chose the still unidentified passenger, who refused to leave because he was a doctor and had patients to see the next morning and the next flight to Louisville didn’t leave until the following afternoon. Airport security then went on to forcibly remove the man from his chair and drag him off the flight. Yes, DRAG.
CNN shared the video of the incident and the statement from United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz. The response from Munoz was not effective and a little insensitive. In his statement, Munoz made the passenger seem like he was the problem, when the problem was the use of violent force on a customer. In his response, he should have mentioned that United is not permitted to use force on a customer and that the police officers did not work for United Airlines and that they worked for Chicago O’Hare Airport, so they were not aware of United Airlines policies. Munoz could have mentioned that United employees are trained for situations like this and using force is never permitted. They also should have admitted that overbooking flight 3411 was their mistake and not the paying customers.
This is the perfect storm for a PR Crisis. This situation could have been handled completely differently, but you live and you learn.