It’s been almost a week since Chicago Department of Aviation officers dragged Dr. David Dao off his United Airlines flight, in order to make room for other crew members. Since then, there has been extensive coverage of the event and United Airlines has issued several statements. I believe from a public relations standpoint, United started off very poorly, but since then they have responded more thoughtfully and carefully.
Monday morning, the morning after the event, Oscar Munoz, United’s CEO issued a public statement and a letter to employee’s. That letter to the employees was where United really messed up.
“This situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help,” Munoz said. “Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.”
Yikes. There are a few words and phrases in that letter that anyone who has seen the video would instantly red flag. First and foremost, “politely” and “established procedures”. Now, I’m sure that the altercation began with a polite request, but the video evidence shows three officers dragging the bloodied man out of the plane as he struggles and screams. That’s not “polite” and I really hope that’s not United’s “established procedure” for such instances. I can understand Munoz saying those things when everything was still up in the air, but this is after he, and thousands of others, had seen the video. And then to end the statement claiming that you, the CEO, stand behind the officers that did this. Not good. Not good at all.
However, since that letter, and as things became clearer, I think Munoz and United took the right steps, including the suspension of the three officers and multiple apologies to Dao, the other passengers, and all United Airlines patrons stating,
“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.”
Munoz went on to say that United is committing that law enforcement will not be contacted unless there is a security threat, and they are conducting a thorough review of company policies and crew training, and results of the review will be released by April 30.
This nightmare event followed by the very poorly worded letter to employees has dug United into a very deep hole, and it’s going to take a lot more than apologizing to regain the trust of the public. Unfortunately for them, that’s all they can really do for now.