United Airlines: A crisis that keeps getting worse

By: Cole Buergi, Leonard & Finco Public Relations

There’s an old adage about being in trouble. It reads, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.” That’s sound advice that was ignored by United Airlines (UA) immediately following a video on social media showing aviation police manhandling a passenger off a flight. Was this passenger being unruly or disruptive to deserve such treatment? No. He simply was chosen as one of four passengers to be asked to give up their seat as UA overbooked the flight.
With the incident itself creating a deep crater, UA should have realized the seriousness of the matter and stopped digging. Instead, UA grabbed the shovel firmly and started digging even deeper by issuing a statement to address the incident. It read:
“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.”
— United CEO Oscar Munoz
Not exactly what you would call a sincere apology and so full of fluff, that even the most corporate minded individuals recognized this as pure bologna. Not only did the original incident set social media ablaze, the statement added even more jet fuel to the fire.  
What should have immediately happened instead is textbook PR 101: Crisis Management which includes a full apology from Munez to the victim and to announce that immediate steps are being taken to ensure something like this never happens again.
Instead, it took days for an apology and only after immense pressure was placed on UA and Munez. Since then, Munez has been making the media rounds clarifying UA’s position. Considering it’s stock price and brand destruction, it may be too little, too late.
What do you think UA should have done differently? If given a choice, would you pay more to fly a different airline just to avoid flying United Airlines?