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Sky-high Incompetence

Filed under: PR disasters, customer service calamities, damage control.

Yes, we’re talking about what everyone else is talking about: that awful video of a passenger being forcibly yanked off of a United flight in Chicago.

I’ll preface this by saying that I really have no idea about the logistics or reasoning involved in overbooking flights—it seems absolutely arcane from my perspective—so I’ll welcome any input from my in-the-know airline friends out there. But this video was horrific.

After refusing to give up his seat—one that he had paid for—a passenger was removed from his seat, screaming and bloodied, and dragged through the airplane’s aisle. Mortified witnesses captured the entire event, and now United Airlines is dealing with the massive PR fallout.

United’s initial response only fueled the backlash, releasing a boiler-plate-lawyer-reviewed statement in which they lamented that they had to “re-accommodate” the passenger.

Re-accommodate. My word.

As a result, United’s stock plummeted 4 percent Tuesday morning.

 Travel is a stressful situation in and of itself. The mere fact that a possibility exists where you can make it through all of the hoops, stow your luggage, and finally find your uncomfortable seat just to have the airline tell you that you will not be taking that flight is absurd. Security personnel manhandling you on your way out is unbelievable. United will be beating this incident back for a long, long time.

We’ll see how the airline chooses to move forward from here, but suffice to say their decision-making process since the video hit the web has been absolutely tone-deaf. These are the types of PR failures that define a company’s reputation—we’ll see if it affects them in the long-run.

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