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Local PR firm has suggestions for United Airlines after viral debacle

Local PR firm has suggestions for United Airlines after viral debacle (MGN)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - By now, you've surely seen the video of the United Airlines passenger dragged from a plane because it was “overbooked.”

The viral video has created a public relations nightmare for the carrier and United’s CEO has fanned the flames with a clumsy apology.


Now, a local public relations expert has some suggestions for United.

The United Airlines video will be a great case study in public relations.

It has all the elements of the modern “image killer:”

  • drama caught on tape
  • A social media free-for-all
  • And a big company slow to say it's sorry.

Michael Soltis and his service dog “Ruby” flew United Airlines into Cincinnati last week. Things went well, but like everyone else on the street, he's seen the video and can't believe it.

“I thought it was pretty crude. I thought they could have negotiated something. Some kind of settlement to have one of the other passengers offer them some money or give them more incentives. Free tickets… something other than drag somebody off the airplane,” said Soltis.

United's stock is down about one percent now on Tuesday and the mockers are trending on social media.

“We're always anxious after something like that happens to see how a company reacts and that's what we really focus on and what would we tell them,” said Michael Perry, VP of VEHR Communications.

Perry says United has made some textbook missteps. An email from CEO Oscar Munoz stood behind employees and put the onus on the passenger.

Did any other eyes see it before he pressed send?

“When the CEO writes a letter that becomes public very quickly and kind of condones… how they handled it and says it was the last choice? That's not what you want to portray publicly. You want to be a little more sympathetic to the situation. You want to make sure customers know that they come first for you,” said Perry.

The shock of the images of a bloodied passenger will stick with people for a while, but Perry says the airline will recover.

“Look, if you go to Travelocity tomorrow and you're taking your family on a flight and United gives you the lowest flight you may swallow hard but that's the flight you're going to take,” said Perry.

Michael Soltis and “Ruby” are flying United home later this week. He has different concerns.

“Geez, I just hope they're not bankrupt by the time I get to the airport,” said Soltis.

United CEO, Oscar Munoz, sent out a new statement Tuesday afternoon that had a much softer tone.

In it he apologized to the passenger twice in the first paragraph and to all passengers on the plane.

Munoz says it's never too late to do the right thing. That may be true, but in today's social media environment it's also hard to do the right thing quickly enough.

In the statement, Munoz calls the incident "truly horrific."

He also calls for a thorough review of United’s policies on oversold aircraft and how the airline works with airport authorities and local law enforcement.

And, he promises to do better.

Munoz says the results of the review will be released by the end of the month.

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