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When A Belated “Mea Culpa” Is Not Enough…

By now, there surely is no one left who watches or reads anything at all -- who has not seen the outrageous videoed scene of a passenger forcibly removed from his paid United Airlines flight.  But what is new is that, after two days of international outrage and some initial mumbo jumbo, defensive remarks from the United Airlines CEO Munoz, a real apology happened, along with a promise to “fix things.”

As a PR professional of 30+ years, I would be remiss not to comment and on what has already been commented on, ad infinitum, for it still boggles my mind that this outrage could even happen. 

And here is why it can… Apparently removing a paid passenger forcibly from most airlines (not Jet Blue) is acceptable and condoned in most airline manuals.  Ok, not likely in the manner that United Airlines did this, but still…

So post-incident, the question begs was there no one in United’s  ”ivory tower” headquarters in Chicago, aware of this unfolding incident who could manage some “momentary damage control?” Did anyone in the C-suite even know that the standard compensation of $1,350 was not offered to the forcibly removed passenger?  Or, for that matter, was it offered to any passenger on the flight to tempt more volunteers? What happened to standard “what if” scenarios common in most company crises manuals?  And if so, is the United crisis manual shared with on ground and inflight crews?

The real culprit, the practice of overbooking a flight as a way of maximizing profits, needs an overhaul. If overbooking remains inevitable in the face of profits, then minimally it should become transparent as to policies and backed up by crisis plans, in advance of occurrences. Also, the dollar bar should be raised as to what passengers can be rewarded for giving up their seats. But for this to happen, Congress would need to weigh in.

Not too likely, considering that according to the Washington Post, press secretary Sean Spicer called the videos “troubling,” but dismissed calls for further investigation into what he called “a very simple local matter.”

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