When beginning this project I sought out to see the impact that social media can have on a company. My overarching question was "Is all publicity good publicity?"
United Airlines is a topic that has been hot and heavy in the news these past few weeks. Why? Because of a video of a passenger being dragged of the plane by airport police for not wanting to be bumped from his seat. Evidently United Airlines had overbooked the flight and randomly choose people to give up their seats. One man refused to leave the plane and according to witnesses, was pulled screaming from his seat by security and back to the terminal at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. The incident occurred on Sunday, 9th of April, onboard United Express flight 3411. The passenger in question was 69-year-old David Dao. The video of Dao getting dragged off the plane quickly spread over social media and people were enranged. The following day, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz tweeted an apology "for having to re-accommodate" the customers without mention of the violence that took place. He also sent a letter to his employees which appeared to blame Dao. The letter stated that he "refused" to cooperate after the was "politely asked" to leave his seat, forcing the crews to call for help. By Tuesday, United's stock prices had plummeted, causing Munoz to issue a more humble apology the same day but the damage had already been done.
"I continue to be disturbed by what happened. I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly
removed and to all the customers aboard." Munoz stated in his apology. "No one should ever be mistreated this way...
It's never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers
and our employees that we are going to fix what's broken so this never happens again."
The day after Mr. Munoz appeared on ABC's "Good Morning, America,"
and said he felt "shame"
when he saw the video of Dr. Dao being dragged from the flight.
This can never -will never- happen again on a United Airlines flight.
That's my premise and that's my promise he said.
Megan McCarthy,a spokeswoman for United later admitted that the flight was technically not overbooked. She claimed the flight was full and then crew members,
who were scheduled to operate a flight Monday morning from Louisville to Newark, N.J., needed seats on the plane. If the crew members had not been allowed to board,
Ms. McCarthy said, the Monday morning flight would have been canceled.
As of a few days ago United Airlines stated they will no longer allow employees to
take the place of passengers who have already boarded overbooked flights.
We issued an updated policy to make sure crews traveling on our aircraft are booked at least 60 minutes prior to departure," United Airlines spokeswoman,
Maggie Schmerin, wrote in an email on Sunday 4/16.
This is one of our initial steps in a review of our policies.
The story took another detour when evidence of Dr. Dao's criminal background started emerging. He was charged in 2005 with 98 felony drug counts for illegally prescribing and trafficking painkillers. Prosecutors claimed Dao fraudulently filled prescriptions for hydocodone, oxycontin and percocet and supposedly his medical license was restored in 2015. However, Dao's criminal background had nothing to do with him getting removed from the flight. Many speculations have been made as to why he was treated the way he was. The incident caused outrage in China who claimed that Dao was being discriminated against for being Asian.
A poll conducted by Morning Consult showed that more than 40% of people who have heard about United Airlines recently would pay more and endure longer layovers to avoid traveling with the airline. The power of social media seems substantial and among then people who had heard of the incident, 79 percent chose an American flight instead of United. Even if the flights were identical. Several hashtags trending on Twitter seem to imply that customers are seriously considering boycotting United Airlines. The humorous news mottos that users have been tweeting (shown above) under the #unitedairlinesmotto quickly spread over twitter, as did the #unitedairlinesboycott tag and #unitedairlinesassault tag. Following the PR disaster Uniteds stock price also dropped by 1.1%, wiping out $255 million off the airline's market cap.
So are people actually going to boycott United? For the moment it seems so, however there's no guarantee the harsh feelings towards the airline will linger long. Loraine Lau-Gesk, a professor at the University of California at Irvine business school, said people's salty feelings for United may not last. "Airlines are essentially a commodity because most people don't fly more than twice a year; true brand loyalty is harder to come by when people are simply making their choices based on cost."
"Memory fades," says Lau-Gesk, and people move on to focusing on the next wave of news competing for their attention.
So what's next in the United Airlines saga? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
Interested in knowing more about why this was such a big PR crisis? Click here.
Project by Olivia Breler