Public Affairs Strategy - United Airlines Public Relations Debacle

A shocking incident of a passenger being dragged off a United Airlines plane has created a spiraling crisis for the airline, which has been worsened by a poor display of public affairs strategy. With consumers threatening to boycott United, CEO Oscar Munoz eventually apologized for the incident stating that “No one should ever be mistreated this way.” Not only did the video bring unwelcome scrutinising attention to United, but to the entire airline industry and their disregard for consumer wants and needs in an effort to maximise profits.

Chinese social media accused United of racism for the mistreatment of the ejected passenger, Dr. David Dao, who appeared to be Asian in the video where he is forcibly removed from his seat, leaving him injured and with a bleeding faced. Many Americans also jumped on social media to voice their complaints, calling out the airline as ‘tone deaf’ and mocking Mr Munoz’s original apology for having to “re-accommodate these customers”.

Airlines have oversold flights for decades, expecting several people not to show up for a flight. It is a strategy that ensures a full plane and maximises profits for airlines. Of course, customers who as removed from a flight will receive compensation for the inconvenience. However, in cases where the flight is overbooked, airlines will generally have to get people to voluntarily change their plans, and if no one agrees, passengers must be removed by force.

Whether or not airlines should be allowed to continue to practice of overbooking their flights, it is clear that the public relations service provided to United Airlines was less than adequate. Desiree Peterkin Bell is an experienced politician who is well adept in public affairs strategy, and unlike the service provided to United Airlines, the public relations services being provided by her public affairs firm, DPBell & Associates, is beyond adequate. In fact, if DPBell & Associates were hired by United, the airline may have been able to save face and prevent the situation from blowing up to such an extent. To find out more about Desiree Peterkin Bell and her public relations service, visit her website.