What United Airlines CEO Oscar Muñoz Should Have Done

There's bad customer service and then there is just bad policy. This is both.

United Airlines has made a major boo-boo in the removal of a non belligerent PAYING customer. Their excuse for removing him is that they were “overbooked” and needed the seat for an employee of a partner airline.

The 69-year-old doctor was beaten and bloodied by police, the video went viral and can be seen here:

Over the last 15 years, airlines have gotten to be over-the-top pushy. Ever since 9-11 they have been more empowered to take things into their own hands.

Mistakes happen, even horrid ones like this. It’s easy to be a couch quarterback, but the issue here is what’s going on after the incident. CEO Oscar Muñoz is handling this poorly. The 21st century offers many benefits and challenges that can make or break your company. Today information travels faster than the planes of any airline.

In Oscar’s defense, he learned about business before the internet was popular. Todays climate is very different than it was 20 years ago. It used to be that you could keep people quiet and cover up faux pas like this with a limited amount of exposure, but today every person on a plane has a personal communicator (far more advanced than what Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek ever guessed) that has a video camera and access to a dozen places where they can share their video.

The thing he should know however is that: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Well Oscar, your passenger is bleeding, so its leading.

United Airlines CEO Oscar Muñoz is doubling down when he should be shaking his finger at his staff and apologizing to his customers. There’s bad customer service and then there is just bad policy. This is both.

The classic slapstick movie Airplane doesn’t have a single scene as ridiculous as this real life situation. Somethings are unthinkable. I vote with my wallet and this company is on my do-not-spend list until further notice, mostly because of the CEO’s indifference to the situation. Simply playing it down will not work in the 21st century. Information is everywhere and as a business you have to be proactive and do three things.

  1. Accept responsibility for your staff, not the incident. Most people run for the hills and go with the “deny everything” attitude fearing financial repercussions. What they miss is that you can accept that your staff made a mistake and get on the right side of the catastrophe.

  2. Apologize publicly. Never underestimate the general public to use emotion over logic. When we apologize publicly we enlist the sympathy of the mob.

  3. Release a plan. Most people just want to know that you have a plan and that you are on it. Detailing direct action will limit public upheaval and reduce your exposure.

The absence of these three things indicates the inability for this airline to be effective in the 21st century. They could call and ask me to help them control this, but they will probably be too busy being reactive to be proactive.

It’s important to remember that you can’t fix the past, but you can can engineer the future.

The good news is I’m pretty sure that this doctor will end up owning a considerable portion of this company’s cash.

Happy travels,

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