A wave of public opinion is crashing against United Airline after videos surfaced of a bleeding passenger getting physically dragged off an overbooked flight.
The passenger, who claimed he was a doctor, was asked to leave the flight before it took off because four crew members needed a ride to Louisville for another flight. He was one of four passengers picked at random from the flight list because nobody wanted to voluntarily give up their seat despite the airline offering $800 and a hotel stay.
After the passenger got into a shouting match with an airline manager, the airline called the Chicago Police Department to remove the man. Video shows the passenger hanging onto his seat as police officers tried to pull him away. At some point in the struggle, the passenger started bleeding from the mouth and was bodily dragged in a dazed state from the plane.
The video from Sunday evening quickly went viral, sparking massive outrage.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz tried to pacify the anger with a statement saying, "This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation."
But United Airlines spokesman Charlie Hobart had a different tone, saying, "We followed the right procedures. That plane had to depart. We wanted to get our customers to their destinations, and when one gentleman refused to get off the aircraft, we had to call the Chicago Police Department."
Now financial expert Brett Arends, writing for MarketWatch, says CEO Munoz did a terrible job handling all of this, calling his public response “a piece of pusillanimous [cowardly] lawyer-crafted claptrap that was pitiful, inadequate and insulting.”
Here’s what Arends believes Munoz should have said:
“I have just seen the video from Flight 3411, and like all of you I am shocked. I have immediately cleared my calendar of all other commitments, and I am going to our company’s facilities at O’Hare to conduct a personal inquiry. All personnel involved in this incident will be reporting to me in person immediately. I am going to find out how this happened, who did what and why. I notice that the passenger’s violent removal was conducted by law enforcement personnel, not by United staff, and I am going to demand a full explanation from the relevant authorities as well. Meanwhile, I apologize personally to the passenger, to all others on the flight, to our customers and to the American public. I expect to issue a further report within 72 hours.”
Arends points out that in the era of social media, you can’t just let your lawyers handle things for you. You have to repair the public’s perception of you as well, otherwise you’ll going to lose a lot of business very, very quickly.
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