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The United Airlines PR Crisis

Discuss about the Public Relation of Internet Public Sentiment.

Crisis management is an important process when it affects the brand image of an organization among its targeted customers. For an organization, it is very important to deal with and serve its customers effectively. This paper is totally focused on the Public Relations crisis issue that is faced by United Airlines when the video of a passenger being forcibly dragged from the flight went viral on different social media sites. This incident had an adverse impact on the brand image of United Airlines. The company had faced a loss due to this event. It includes the crisis management approach that is used by United Airlines to deal with this crisis. Moreover, it focuses on the use of social media and effectiveness of company’s strategy that is employed by this airline in this case.

On April 9, 2017, after all the passengers were seated in the flight then a staff member of United Airlines announced that they had to remove 4 travellers to make space for 4 staff members who needed to cover an short-staffed plane elsewhere. In this situation, these four passengers were offered $400 vouchers for future journey and hotel stay (Victor and Stevens, 2017). But there was no one to participate in this so manager of company informed the plane that 4 passengers will be selected by computer system (Shaw, 2016). Three from the chosen people were agreed to leave their seat, but fourth passenger Dr. David Dao denied. He claimed that he had to see the patients at his clinic. After this, Dao was forcefully dragged and removed from flight causing some injuries to his mouth and head. The security person in the plane threw Dao against the armrest. Some passengers in flight have recorded this incident. This video was broadly spread on social media sites. It has led to a public relation (PR) crisis for United Airlines (Creswell and Maheshwari, 2017). This video of event was extensively shared on social media and then it was taken by the media agencies as well. It was shared 87,000 times and viewed 6.8 million times in a day. Over a night, this incident has become a top trending topic in China and relates that Dao was being intentionally targeted as he was Asian went viral.

In order to respond this situation, the first official reaction from company’s CEO just apologized for re-accommodating customers not for the injury to Dao. He described Dao as belligerent and disruptive. This lack of responsiveness and empathy response of United Airlines worked as fuel to the fire and more criticism towards company on social media sites. After some days, the CEO issued a statement i.e. “deep apologies for happened with Dao”. At the same time, #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos was in the trend with the users tweeting the slogans and memes like “not enough seating, prepare for a beating”. This incident of United Airlines highlighted the power of social media and how an event can become the global PR crisis over a night (Clark, 2016).  Moreover, it has affected the brand image of company in Asian market especially in China. The viral video enticed huge attention in China that is growth market for United Airlines. The claim of Dr. Dao that he was forced for removal as he is an Asian had an adverse impact on the business of airlines in Asia as many future travellers will have watched the video. Considering the situation of this company, other airlines also posted on social and launched new advertising campaign. Emirates introduced an advertising campaign which imitates United’s “Fly the Friendly Skies” tagline and previous statements made by CEO (Kim and Krishna, 2017). Additionally, Royal Jordanian posted a message on its Twitter account i.e. “we would like to retell you that drags on planes are strictly banned by crew and passengers” and “we are here to keep #united.

The Crisis Management Approach Employed by United Airlines

Looking at the above situation and response from United Airlines, it can be stated that organization has employed situational crisis communication theory to handle this situation. The company has used this crisis management approach to develop a framework. In general, this is an approach that can be used by crisis managers under crisis communication to safeguard the organizational image of company during the crisis. In addition to this, it recognizes how the stakeholders will respond to the crisis response strategies (Eaton, 2017). In the case of United Airlines, the CEO had issued some negative statements which have adverse impact on the customer behavior and preferences. The company said that it would give full refund to all the passengers in the plane. After making apologies, the CEO of company posted a video on social media and said how its policies and procedures will be changed in the future. It had issued three video on social media regarding the policy changes at this organization. It shows how the company uses social media to overcome the issue (Zou, and Yang, 2017).

Situational crisis communication theory assisted the organization to handle the above situation but it really did not work effectively and company failed to maintain its brand image. After this event, the company started to lose its passenger base (Hosseinali-Mirza, de Marcellis-Warin and Warin, 2015). To know about the customer preference, the company conducted a poll of 1900 people. It recommended that 79% of the fliers had heard about the event will select non-United Airline aircraft. 44% people will select a non-United Airline even if it charges $66 higher and took more hours. Thus it affected the brand image among population (Barry, 2017). From the above crisis handling strategy, it can be stated that poorly generated and adopted apologies can cause extra reputational damage and it may be worse than no apology.

There are various other organizations that also faced the issue of PR crisis in its business operations. Uber is one of the major examples that have confronted the issues due to its poor corporate culture. This organization suffered several types of PR crisis. This cab service provider suffered various continuous issues like departure of higher managers, sexual assaults by drivers of Uber, its software that cheated both customers and drivers and report of safety issues. It shows that the major cause of its issues is its corporate culture which drives various PR issues. To deal with the issues, the company focused on developing the internal culture of organization that was not sufficient for resolving this issue (McCombs, 2017). The company should engage in corporate social responsibility, professionalism and maturity so that it can develop effective relationship with the public.

Effectiveness of Company's Strategy

Thus about the United Airlines’s crisis management approach, it can be stated that this strategy of United Airlines was not successful so it should be focused on other strategies and crisis management approaches. These strategies assisted the organization to maintain its brand reputation among its potential passengers. In order to deal with this PR crisis, United Airlines should respond quickly to these types of incidents and apologize directly to the effected people. The response of company should show empathy to the affected people. The company should be transparent with the social media and other media.  If the company has done anything wrong then it should take the responsibility and apologize for it and place the required processes so it will not happen in the future (Janicek, 2017). In addition to this, United Airlines would have benefits from enhancing its crisis response approaches and strategies that would enhance the perceptions and attitudes of passengers towards its flights.

Furthermore, it can be suggested that United Airlines should post sits policy changes on multiple social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. to better get the feedback about them. To overcome this PR crisis, it should create a communication crisis plan. It will assist the organization in the future over any possible crisis situation. In the future, United Airlines may have the opportunity to learn from its previous bad public relation mistakes and aspire to increase the customer loyalty program for the coming year. The United States and international airline sector is always growing with new customers (Zou, and Yang, 2017). United Airlines should make efforts to take the benefits of these new customers by developing brand loyalty and they can expand their operations in new and emerging markets. Additionally, it should not underestimate the power of social media that plays an important role in public relation crisis.

Conclusion

In the limelight of above discussion, it can be concluded that United Airlines had faced a serious public relation disaster that has affected the brand reputation of company in global airline industry. For each and every for-profit organization, it is very important that it works by developing and effective communication process and develop the process for different benefits. In the above report, it can be stated using effective and other strategies will be more beneficial for United Airlines. The issue of company is related to personal relation crisis as it has faced the issue related to public sector among networks. The results of company’s analysis show that United Airlines should use more effective to provide a better communication response to the company. It will enable the United Airlines to overcome the related issues and develop a better brand image among its targeted population.

References

Barry, W.S., 2017. Airline Management: Business Management in Transport 3 (Vol. 2). UK: Routledge.

Clark, P., 2016. Stormy skies: airlines in crisis. UK: Routledge.

Creswell, J. and Maheshwari, S. 2017, United Grapples With PR Crisis Over Videos of Man Being Dragged Off Plane. Available from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/11/business/united-airline-passenger-overbooked-flights.html. [Accessed from 5 June 2018].

Eaton, J., 2017. Globalization and human resource management in the airline industry. UK: Routledge.

Hosseinali-Mirza, V., de Marcellis-Warin, N. and Warin, T., 2015. Crisis Communication Strategies and Reputation Risk in the Online Social Media Environment. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 6(5), pp.7-21.

Janicek, K., 2017, How United Airlines Could Have Avoided Its PR Crisis. Available from https://mediashift.org/2017/04/united-airlines-avoided-pr-crisis/. [Accessed from 5 June 2018].

Kim, S. and Krishna, A., 2017. Bridging strategy versus buffering strategy: enhancing crisis management capability in public management for relational and reputational improvement, and conflict avoidance. Asian Journal of Communication, 27(5), pp.517-535.

McCombs, M., 2017. Contemporary public opinion: Issues and the news. UK: Routledge.

Shaw, S., 2016. Airline marketing and management. UK: Routledge.

Victor, D. and Stevens, M., 2017, United Airlines Passenger Is Dragged From an Overbooked Flight. Available from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/10/business/united-flight-passenger-dragged.html. [Accessed from 5 June 2018].

Zou, T.R. And Yang, S., 2017. Public Relation of Internet Public Sentiment on Sports Events in the Mobile Internet Era. Zhejiang Sport Science, 1, p.006.

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