United Airlines (UAL) is going to need on-board crisis PR and social media consultants. In late March, it created the self-inflicted hashtag #LeggingsGate by refusing to let two girls with leggings on board. Last week they dragged a passenger off an “overbooked” plane when he refused to voluntary and randomly get off the flight. Let’s call this one #seatgate.
With headlines on social media and the web saying “United Passenger Dragged From Overbooked Flight” and a video of the bruising incident made by other passengers on their phones and posted on Twitter (TWTR), this is a case study in horrible PR, never mind the drop in the company’s stock price by as much as $1.4 billion the day after the incident went viral.
In PR 101, you learn two things:
1) Don’t screw up.
2) When you screw up, apologize.
Here their customer service and PR stupidity were caught live on video and went viral. This from an airline whose CEO — just named by PR Week as Communicator of the Year – issued a statement supporting the employees in the incident.
The man they kicked off the plane has one hell of a lawsuit, despite airline rules allowing for bumping passengers. He won’t even need PR to get on TV. And with United and the airlines already at the top of consumers’ hate list, it will have a hard time finding a jury on its side.
This is just wrong on so many PR and other levels. One simple solution: don’t overbook flights any more. This was a paying passenger who wanted to get to his destination. United asked for volunteers to take another flight and since no one did, they started to look randomly.
Are you kidding me? The most important rule of any customer interaction is taking care of a person who has paid to enter your business establishment. He was sitting in his seat. That is the airline’s product – a seat – so how hard is that to understand in PR terms?
United has shown twice now – with #Leggingsate and now #seatgate – that they don’t know the first thing about PR or customer service, or social media for that matter. They should immediately apologize and offer that passenger a large cash settlement even before he sues. This kind of bad PR is going to start hurting United’s bottom line.
After all, who wants to fly United and be told what to wear, or get dragged off a flight? The only thing United could do that is even dumber is to charge passengers a fee if they refuse to give up their seats on an overbooked plane or make the airline drag them off.
Get the on-board crisis PR and social media consultants ready.
(See the original article on CommPRO)
About the Author: About the Author: Andrew Blum is a PR consultant, media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. In the political realm, he handled PR for former NY Governor George Pataki for six years. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms
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