On Monday, a video was posted on social media of a bloodied United Airlines passenger being dragged from his seat from an overbooked flight has gotten more than 6 million views and fueled anger at the airline.
CEO Oscar Munoz has been working during the past year to rebuild the airline’s battered customer service reputation. However, this video threatens to undo all his work.
Second PR nightmare in as many weeks:
This is the second time the airline has faced backlash in the past two weeks. The first was due to not allowing two young girls on a plane because they were wearing leggings.
This incident reminded people that their seat on a plane is never guaranteed until the plane is flying. Last year, almost half a million passengers on major U.S. airlines got bumped, however most of them gave up their seats voluntarily in exchange for credits for future flights.
The Chicago Department of Aviation issued a statement saying that the aviation security officer who pulled the man from his seat was placed on leave. The statement read: “The incident on United Flight 3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure, and the actions are obviously not condoned by the department.”
United is conducting a detailed review of the incident, according to Munoz, who called the incident: “an upsetting event to all of us here at United.” However, the airline policies and its employees publically, at the same time they sent a letter to them on Monday night saying: “there are lessons we can learn from this experience.”
Matt Rizzetta, CEO of New York-based public relations firm North 6th Agency said that the damage this incident has caused to United’s reputation could be irreversible, at least for some consumers.
How it went down:
One of the passengers on the flight, Tyler Bridges, said he’d think twice before booking with the airline again. He said that he was waiting for his wife for their flight home to Louisville, United asked for volunteers to take a later flight. They offered $400 and a hotel stay at first, then increased it to $800, but no one volunteered.
Then the passengers were told that a computer will select the four passengers to who should leave the plane. United stated they have offered up to $1,000 to passengers who were told to leave the aircraft.
When a man was selected, he objected saying that he was a doctor who needed to see patients Monday morning. Bridges said “It was clear he wasn’t going to come off unless they were to drag him off. He was resisting any way he could. He was flailing his arms a little bit and yelling.”
Audra, Bridges’ wife, posted the video of the incident on Facebook. By 6pm Monday, it was shared more than 87,000 times and viewed 6.8 million times.
Bridges posted another video on Twitter of the man hurrying back down the aisle after he was dragged, saying repeatedly, “I have to go home. I have to go home.”
In a statement, Munoz said that the airline is trying to reach the passenger to “further address and resolve this situation.” He added: “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,” Munoz said.
United’s procedures for re-accommodation were followed, according to Hobart. They first seek volunteers, then they explain the situation to the customers the airline chose to bump, then finally, involve law enforcement if a customer refuses.
However, industry analysts wonder why the incentive wasn’t higher.
Travel industry analyst and founder of Atmosphere Research Group, Henry Harteveldt, said: “Everybody has their price. If they had allowed the agent to offer a higher incentive, we may never have heard about this.”
It’s also not clear why the airline postponed bumping the passengers until they were in their seats to make way for crew members, as it made the situation worse. Some passengers believe that airlines might retreat in order to avoid a scene, but that’s usually not the case.
Some travel experts believe that United could have avoided the situation if they had been a little more flexible, like if they had asked passengers why they were traveling.
This is a worse PR disaster than crashing a plane, an expert added.