United debacle shows why PR deserves a front seat


Yesterday’s forced removal of a passenger from a United Airlines flight has finally brought some welcome relief to PR people. For a short time, the United share price seemed to rise following the incident – but thankfully it is now sinking. So reputation does affect the bottom line after all and PR folk can sleep soundly in the knowledge that they do contribute to the value of the company. In fact, as of now, over half a billion dollars have been wiped off the value of United.

So, with hindsight, if the ground staff had offered the customer half a billion dollars to change flights they would have been in a better position than they are now. A mock ad for competitor Southwest Airlines takes advantage of the situation with the strap line: “We beat our competitors not our customers”.

United handled the situation deplorably with defensive corporate jargon referring to “re-accommodating” passengers. But, of course, the damage was already done. As the ‘leggings’ controversy the previous week showed, the airline has failed to embed an approach to customer relations informed by good PR practice. The result is continuing reputation risk and a vulnerability to competitors who get this right. United needs to give PR a front seat.

Oh dear, that is another $300 million gone in the time it has taken to write this.



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