Social Media #struggle: United’s Response & The Backlash

The story of a United Airlines passenger being dragged from his seat to make room for an airline employee on an already overbooked flight went viral Sunday night. This story has since become a publicity nightmare for United’s CEO and staff. On April 11th, one day after the incident, United CEO Oscar Munoz released the following statement: “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. 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. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”

For many twitter users, the word “re-accommodate” stood out more than Munoz’s overall message.

In response to the incident, United Airlines has maintained its customer service presence on its social media accounts. Prior to Sunday their online tone was very simple and informative, whereas now their interactions are much more positive and caring, which is probably not a coincidence.


Again on Tuesday, United posted a statement on its website for its employees:

Dear Team,

The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.

I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.

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. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.

I promise you we will do better.

Sincerely,

Oscar


In a last attempt to quiet an outraged public, Munoz publicly stated, “I continue to be disturbed by what happened. I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way. We are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again.” Munoz has pledged to look into the incident with a full public report by April 30, as well as a review into the company’s partnerships with law enforcement and reevaluating its policies on giving paying-customer seats to employees and overbooking strategy.

Chapter 4: What Comes Next?