Dave Kerpen | How United Can Still Fix This PR Disaster
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How United Can Still Fix This PR Disaster

How United Can Still Fix This PR Disaster

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 2 days, by now you’ve seen the video of the man who was unceremoniously dragged off a United Airlines plane Sunday night after the flight had been oversold and didn’t get enough volunteers to take a later flight. In fact, when you include social media and television, I’m estimating over 100 million people have already seen the disturbing video:

My social media feeds and yours are now filled with reactions to this incident and to United CEO Oscar Munoz’s lukewarm apology. There are many people calling for protests and saying they will never fly United again.

The company’s stock fell another 1% today and lost over $300 million from its market value. Undoubtedly, this is a PR disaster for the company. While there are lots of articles explaining the mistakes they made and what people can learn (not offering more money to volunteers, calling the police, not offering a more sincere apology, etc), I’m going to focus on what they can do to resolve this disaster.

United needs to act swiftly and boldly. Here’s what I’d do if I were in CEO Oscar Munoz’s shoes:

1) Make and share a video personally apologizing to the man dragged off the plane. Use the words, “I’m so sorry,” and “I understand how you feel.” Validate this poor man’s horrific experience.

2) Call up the man on the phone and do the same thing as in point 1). Listen to him. Hear him out and apologize profusely and sincerely. Offer the man something wildly dramatic, such as free United flights anywhere in the world for him and a guest for the rest of his life.

3) Make and share a video personally apologizing to everyone else on the plane and everyone who has seen the video. Say “I’m sorry” sincerely and authentically.

4) Have someone on the customer service team call up every passenger on that plane and personally apologize, again validating their horrible experience. Offer them something dramatic also, like $10,000 worth of free flights to each person.

5) Issue a press release saying that United is deeply sorry and committed to leading industry efforts to combat the problem of overbooking flights. Follow through on these efforts.

6) Offer sitewide “We’re sorry we screwed up” discounts of 20% off all flights for the next 7 days.

Yes, these are dramatic moves, but they will change the story from the horrific video and poor decisions by United staff and the police officers they called, to how United is bending over backwards to validate their customers’ experiences and make them whole.

By changing the narrative, United can demonstrate that while they screwed up, they know how to treat customers and the always-demanding public.

Good luck, United! This is going to be a tough one to recover from!

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