Yesterday, April 10th, videos posted to Twitter and Facebook which showed a 69-year-old man being dragged violently off a United Airlines plane, evoked hot discussion and massive outrage on social media. The videos taken by other passengers on that flight rapidly went viral.
In late night, about 20 hours after the incident, United CEO responded to it as below.
The statement failed to calm the angry people down. Many customers found the response to be overly callous. Some people even did corrections with red marks for that statement on social media.
Rupert Younger, a PR expert and director of the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation said,
“The apology by the CEO was, at best, lukewarm or, at worst, trying to dismiss the incident. The CEO should make a better, more heartfelt, more meaningful and more personal apology.” (From CNN Money)
And this is not the first time that United Airlines has treated their customers indifferently.
On March 31, 2008, nine years ago, Dave Carroll and members of his band flew with UA from Halifax, Canada to Omaha, Nebraska. Because of the rough handling of cargo, Dave’s Taylor Guitar was broken. Dave then started a long journey to complain about his awful experience with United Airlines and seek compensation. After 15 months, United Airlines still did nothing that they should have done. So Dave posted 3 songs about his experience on YouTube. The videos had been viewed three million times within a week. As United Airlines keeping silent, mainstream media also paid attention to the story.
From the guitar being damaged to United Airlines finally compensated the musician, it took over 15 months.
That is the famous PR crisis in the history–United Breaks Guitar.
Nine years ago, United Airlines spent 15 months to solve a customer service problem. Social media was the catalyst. This time, social media is also the catalyst. What’s different is, social media is more widely-used today and is much more powerful than nine years ago. News and information are spread so fast. Which means, this time, there’s no way for United to spend that long time to solve the crisis.
When they broke the Taylor Guitar, they lost so many chances to say something for themselves. This time, based on what they did, they even have nothing to argue for themselves, other than an apology. No matter what the policy of overbooking is, the use of violence to customers is definitely not right.
People are already boycotting United Airlines on social media. Let’s see how long time they will take for this case.