Physically assaulting a customer and dragging him in front of other customers (passengers) when every customer carries a recording device aka smartphone… Are You Kidding Me?

What were the employees of United Airlines thinking? The conduct of United Airlines defies everything that businesses teach their employees as good business practices. We wonder what happened to “Customer is always right” and never to physically or even verbally assault a passenger.

But here is the lesson. The way United Airlines is dealing with the recent incident in which a customer dragged out of the airplane for the mistake (overbooking) of the company is nothing less than a PR disaster. It is also a great lesson for other business about “what not to do.”

Such PR disasters often cost the business a lot. United Airlines is already paying the price. As the video went viral on the social media and the story picked up by every single news outlet, the United Airlines shares took the hit as they slipped by almost 3.4%, equivalent to almost $800 Million USD!!!

There are probably millions of pissed-off potential customers on the social media who are promising to not to travel in United Airlines ever. Not only that, the anger is spilled over the borders and probably will have an international and long-term impact. As the 69 year old doctor who was dragged from the airplane was Asian, the Asian community is showing their anger not only in the United States but also in China and Vietnam.

All that… because of one video?

Simply put, for the majority of the social media community, United Airline is an airline to not to travel with. On top of that, this allows hundreds of thousands of people to share their own personal “horror stories” with United Airlines.

So What Companies Can Learn from the United Airlines Incident?

Well, the incident does not teach us anything new, but it is more of a reminder. We are living in a different world than we used to live in ten years ago. This incident could be a tiny last page news on a couple of newspaper a few years ago, but now, it can take the world by storm and can have a serious impact on short and long-term bottom line of the businesses.

So here are some reminders and lessons for companies how to deal with the Social World.

  • Everyone around us is a Potential Journalist. Everyone carries a video recorder. Almost every single one of your customer or people interacting with your business and staff carries a recording device in the form of smartphones. Every mishandling/mistreatment of customers especially in front of public will be recorded.


  • Everyone is Online. Most of your customers are on social media. If your customers share anything negative on social media, address it head on. Do not hide behind quoting company policies or by generating a press release.  Containing a social media crisis starts by owning up to it and addressing your public’s concern online.


Social media is different; traditional corporate PR does not work on social media.


The failure of a big company like United Airlines in understanding the impact and finding an appropriate, timely response also highlights another key point. Companies now need specialized social media crisis response teams. You simply cannot let social media judge and convict your company as in the case of United Airlines. With other customers adding their own stories, the internet was within hours an online punching bag for United Airlines.


  • Be Quick to Respond. In the case of any potential reputational risk on social media, be quick to respond on all social media channels. Any delay, which is a norm today as companies are struggling to understand the recent change in communication landscape, will only leave your company open to “Trial by Social Media.”


Act quick to address and engage people talking about your company, do not be a silent admirer to the downfall of your company’s reputation.


  • Be Quick and Be Apologetic. Do you know what makes it the worst PR disaster for United Airlines? It is the response. It was nothing short of a surprise for almost everyone when the CEO issued a response which was unapologetic and only served in fueling the anger of the online community who were waiting for at least an apology.


Take responsibility for your actions; Acknowledge the error.

Handling social media communications crises are not something that can be handled by anyone.  Is your company ready to handle something like this?  Contact FSCO today and let us prepare your team on how to deal with reputation attacks, before it’s too late.