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You are required to write a report; outlining the PR errors made by a company in a real case from the business world; and make recommendations as to how the company should have handled the issue from a PR perspective. Your answer should draw on your knowledge of PR theory, practical considerations, and your own creativity.

Choose one of the three companies/issues listed below:

  • United Airlines’ removal of Dr. David Dao from Flight 3411, which was awaiting departure from Chicago to Louisville, and was overbooked.
  • CommInsure, the insurance arm of Commonwealth Bank, pressuring doctors as part of its strategy to avoid payouts to ill and terminally ill patients
  • Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal

Public relations is the strategic communication process that assist organizations is building mutually beneficial relationships between public and organizations. Public relations is the way organizations manage their relationships with public and communicates with public and media.  There exist different organizational contexts in which public relationship is practiced through their management and communication planning.  A guiding theory is required by practitioners of public relation theory for effectively managing relationship with internal and external stakeholders (Black, 2013).

Report is prepared to demonstrate the public relataions controversy for United Airlines that dragged and removed one of its passenger Dr. David Dao from Flight 3411, from the overbooked flight who was awaiting departure from Chicago to Louisville. United airlines is the third largest airlines that is headquartered in Chicago. It is certainly possible for Airline Company to have overbooked flight that results mainly from large part to the action of customer advocates. In event of passengers, involuntarily denying boarding or removing from seats should not be treated the way doctor has been treated (Guth & Marsh, 2016). In reference to this particular incident, discussion part incorporates several public relations theories, how the organizations should adhere to it for maintaining mutual relationship with public.

United airlines violent passenger incident about removal of one of its passenger who was left bruised and bloodied. Incident took place when volunteers was asked to give up their seats on Louisville. Airline was willing to compensate any passengers who are voluntarily giving up their seats. As per the contract of carriage, in event of overbooked flight, United airline enjoys freedom to deny ticketed passengers to travel. This happens from an agreement when all customers assent to booking. Furthermore, organization also hold the rights to remove passenger from flights in the event when they are interfering or complying with duties of member of flight crew. This particular incident is backed by another public relation controversy that has questioned the public relation department of United Airline.  Previous controversy has ridiculed their slogan of “Fly the friendly skies” by refusing two teenage girls wearing leggings to board (, 2017).  Public have slammed the airline online for facing such controversies. In light of such public relation controversies and crisis communication, it is required by organization to critically handle the public relation. It is difficult for public to view what actually communication strategies of organization is hoping to achieve and whether they have been able to make it at all. United Airline have been casually disregarding their customers and their negligence is leading to stress an opportunity for their competitors to step in airline market.

Public relation errors in United Airlines kept mounting as depicted from several incidents of public controversy. Fiasco of public relation at United Airline began with a viral video of dragging of one of its passenger and this has mounted a drop in market value and further the reputation of brand. After the incident took place, CEO of airlines presented a poorly executed statement. As per the standard practice, it was required by CEO to explain publicly to sufferers of the reparation they would be offered. Seriousness as portrayed in the viral video or the incident of dragging from the seat was not adequately matching the apology of CEO. In his statement of apology, CEO regarded passenger as confrontational and disruptive and he contradicted his own statement in the next statement provided, he mentioned his deepest apology. Public read into every word in such delicate issues of management (, 2017).

Public Relations Errors of United Airlines

It has been perceived by public that organization is not serious about consequence of mistreating customers. However, concerning the incident, it was mentioned by CEO that to remove a booked, paid and seated passengers would not use law enforcement by organization. As seeing and reviewing several articles presented on the incident of public controversy of united airlines, it was depicted that there were no appropriate response of CEO relating to the incidents. The appropriate response and the one sought by public was posted too late that has further damaged the reputation of organization. United airlines made huge and serious public relation errors and there were no adequate apology on their part. From the perspective of customer service, organization has not been promptly acknowledging the failing of airlines as such failure was breathtakingly bad. Organization having good crisis management practice would have promptly and seriously addressed such public relation error (, 2017).

Removing a payable customer from seats by dragging is considered as social injustice of the situation.  Management of crisis is considered both ways, on one hand, it involves perception of public and on other hand, and it is related with operational issues. All the incidents of public relations have imparted some learnings for United Airlines. People and customers should be first priority of airline as it is a service organization and the effect of potential crisis can be defused by sympathetic and emphatic communication.

One of the plain sight in this case is use of terrible language in media statement as magnified by leadership and their irresponsibility depicted that they are not in touch with the issue. Opinion of public cannot be shaped by releasing public relations as the social media has the potential of exponentially augmenting any crisis. Seat overbooking is an issue of standard operational practice does not mean that such incident would be tolerated in public and is considered as right in court of public opinion.  

System theory- This theory provides a framework for managing for viewing organization and their relationship with environment. It is one of the guiding theories for public relation practice and theories. This depicts how an organization manage and understand its relationship with public and stakeholders who make up their environment. A boundary exist that separates environment from its organization is to be spanned and boundary is required to be monitored on the ongoing basis while keeping one foot outside and one foot inside the organization. As the organizations plan their strategies and goals, the important factor that is considered by organization is knowledge of behavior and key attitude of public (Johnston, 2014). It has been envisaged that public relations managers of United Airline are actively engaged in communication with public. However, due to sustained media interests and the ongoing incident is testing their strategic intent. On 11th, April, 2017, one of the event relating to managing publics involved publicity for managing unexpected and certainly unplanned media and public interest in flight being overbooked and rescheduling of flights. An analytical function is undertaken by organization considering the value and source of information gained that is regarded as relevant for short-term plans so that they are able to act promptly in future and influence their long-term plan for managing their relations with public (, 2017).  As an organization is always faced with arising of conflicting positions and it is not easy for them straddle the edges.

Public Relationship Theory employed by the Organization

Publicity model/ Press agentry- Publicity model was the earliest model to be developed that involves diversion of public attention using some systematic effort. It involves a one-way communication where the work of organization is focused on propaganda and publicity.  An organization practicing this particular model employ any possible way to seek attention of their organization. Goal of organization is communicated to target audience through use of distorted, half-true and incomplete information.  The application of this model is done by organization that strives for favorable publicity in mass media in their communication programs.  For controlling, dominating the environment and to achieve their own ends, organization relies on mass media. They monitor the media seeking to place favorable articles and they do not place attention to the credibility and truth of news.

Public information model- Organization using on this model relies on in hose journalists to distribute relatively objective information using controlled information such as brochures, newspaper and news latter and mass media. Journalist does not volunteer negative information. Organization issuing this model is limited readership studies and readability analyses. A top down approach to communication is related to this particular model of public relation where agent creates a message and information’s are send to publics while they do not seek any feedback. Dissemination of information is the main role of communication in this particular model (Van Wart, 2014).

Two-way symmetric model- Organizations practicing excellent working relation mainly adopt this model and it argues that public relation practiced by organization is effective and excellent. Effects of any incident impact public are managed in both ways as both public and organizations are involved in finding way to get change for each other accommodation. It makes greater emphasis on the use of negotiation and dialogue between public and organization. Promoting mutual understanding, seeking a balanced purpose and management of conflict between public and organization making alterations in both entities is the objective of this model. Application of this model might enable persuasion of public to organization to change their attitude and behavior change the behavior and attitude of people (Macnamara, 2016). It is required by organization such as United Airline understand the root cause of ongoing contention and the issues affecting public.

Two-way asymmetric model- This particular model involves two-way communication and describes the effect of communication to receiver from source and back to source. It helps organization employing this model in retaining their position in the society and is effective in serving the interest of public. Views of public inside the organization is advocated by the application of this model by communicating management about the facts accepted by public. Model does not depicts how organization should change for pleasing public resulting from any confrontation (Toth, 2013).

At any level, public relation strategy directs the way in which organization is exchanging information with public for creating a win-win scenario.  An organization is required recognize the importance of strategy of public relations intends to achieve the success of organization.  Since, airline is a service company and for them public relation strategy is incorporated in their corporate strategy. Operations consideration must be included in the strategy decisions. United airline needs to develop an effective public relating strategy for effectively managing such controversies and avoiding them in near future (Parsons, 2016).  They needs to evaluate public opinion by using an array of techniques such as opinion polling, direct mail, social events, speaking arrangements and media relations.

Staffs should be made an integral part of the process of public relation- Role played by employees and staff members in any organization should be well acquainted. Putting staff on front lines would help in internal promotion of brand and they should be able to realize the importance of their part in promoting the company. An instant spiral into the public relation crisis of airline companies arises from the frustration of travelers that would have a damaging impact on their business (Jain et al., 2014).

Employing communication strategy- Communication strategy of United Airlines should be horizontally linked to other part of organization and it should vertically linked to customers. It helps in designing of effective proves of business communication. An integral part of planning of organization is crisis communication and they are regarded as authentic communication channel. Principles of strategic communication process should be created that helps in providing framework for addressing communication issues and are aligned with mission and vision statement of organization (Stacks & Salwen, 2014).

It the current situation, United Airline is required to implement the methods that should aim at improving the relations with customer for maintaining their loyalty and trust. Recent incidents have embarked outrages among customers and it is of utmost importance to address the ongoing threats faced by United Airlines.

High quality of service would help in ensuring and simultaneously creating good public relations. Poor service delivery and mistreating with customers will not be compensated by any amounts of cheers and propaganda.

Listening to customers- The need of key customers regarding communication and products should be identified. Their needs should be addressed without mistreating.

Be creative- Customers in airline industry is rewarded on their multiple purchases and it is required by United Airline to be creative in delighting customers and surprising them. They are required to offer unexpected amenities and rewards, running sweepstakes for accommodation and remembering customer’s birthdays.

Keeping the customers in the loop- Travel plans are endangered to some unexpected changes, although such changes are not entertained. For any changes to the itinerary of the airline companies, they must be prepared for keeping customers in the loop. Real time data instrumentation must be enabled for communicating with customers in event of any changes based on events.

Treating customers as King- During travel window, needs of customers should be supported and recognized. The most important time for consumers is real or actual travel consumption. Airline Company has the opportunities to impress their customers by providing customers support and excellent services.

In light of the above discussed issue of public relations of United airline, it is essential for organization to adopt the model of public relation, making a significant change in their current associated department. The issue of removing passenger from flight has not been addressed in a proper and adequate way, as the communication strategy is not efficient enough to resolve such issues. The appropriate model to be adopted by organization in current situation is two was metric model that will help in addressing the conflicts with the passengers or customers. Airline is required to bring change in their public relations department by enabling them to take responsibility to communicate the matter to public and rebuilding it so that they are able to effectively address crisis management. They need to develop public relations strategy by aligning it with their corporate strategy to establish a mutual beneficial relationship between organization and public.


From the above analysis and discussion of the case of public relation, it was ascertained that public relation controversy was attributable to organization’s behavior. The most widely used model by organization is public information model and it is required by organization to employ tow way model. They did not promptly addresses such conflict and did not provide with adequate apology in their statements. Organization does not make the implementation of appropriate public relation model. Employing two way symmetrical is appropriate in creating transparency and setting up the strategies and plan for dealing with public.  Therefore, united Airlines needs to incorporate appropriate model and public relation strategy development for dealing with public relation controversies and addressing them in a way to regain their trust and loyalty.


Black, S. (2013). Practice of public relations. Routledge.

Euan McKirdy, C. (2017). United Airlines incident: David Dao swung fists violently, officers' reports say. CNN. Retrieved 7 October 2017, from

Guth, D. W., & Marsh, C. (2016). Public relations: A values-driven approach. Pearson.

Jain, R., De Moya, M., & Molleda, J. C. (2014). State of international public relations research: Narrowing the knowledge gap about the practice across borders. Public Relations Review, 40(3), 595-597.

Johnston, K. A. (2014). Public relations and engagement: Theoretical imperatives of a multidimensional concept. Journal of Public Relations Research, 26(5), 381-383.

Macnamara, J. (2016). Organizational listening: Addressing a major gap in public relations theory and practice. Journal of Public Relations Research, 28(3-4), 146-169.

Maheshwari, J. (2017). United Grapples With PR Crisis Over Videos of Man Being Dragged Off Plane. Retrieved 7 October 2017, from

Parsons, P. J. (2016). Ethics in public relations: A guide to best practice. Kogan Page Publishers.

Pizam, A. (2017). The practice of overbooking: Lessons learned from United Airlines flight 3411.

Stacks, D. W., & Salwen, M. B. (Eds.). (2014). An integrated approach to communication theory and research. Routledge.

Strömbäck, J., & Kiousis, S. (2013). Political public relations: Old practice, new theory-building. Public Relations Journal, 7(4), 1-17.

Thomas, L. (2017). Video surfaces of man being dragged from overbooked United flight. CNBC. Retrieved 7 October 2017, from

Toth, E. L. (2013). The case for pluralistic studies of public relations: Rhetorical, critical, and systems perspectives. Rhetorical and critical approaches to public relations, 3-15.

United Airlines CEO apologizes for doctor being dragged off flight. (2017). NBC News. Retrieved 7 October 2017, from

United Flight 3411: A timeline. (2017). USA TODAY. Retrieved 7 October 2017, from

United ordeal 'worse than Vietnam War'. (2017). BBC News. Retrieved 7 October 2017, from

United passenger dragged from plane needs reconstructive surgery – lawyer. (2017). the Guardian. Retrieved 7 October 2017, from

Van Wart, M. (2014). Dynamics of leadership in public service: Theory and practice. Routledge.

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