On April 9, 2017, passengers boarded a commercial United Airline aircraft for what was expected to be a routine flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky. After the flight was fully boarded, the crew realized the flight was overbooked and they were unable to complete their duties during the flight. As Buiness Insider reported, the airline requested four volunteers to abdicate their seat for the crew; however, no passengers volunteered. The airline then randomly selected four passengers to remove from the flight, including David Dao, a Kentucky-based doctor. Dao adamantly and repeatedly refused to relinquish his seat, leading to the involvement of Chicago Aviation Security Officers. The officers forcefully removed Dao from the flight, resulting in several injuries. Tyler Bridges, a passenger on the flight, recorded the incident and posted the video on his personal Twitter account, eliciting public rage. View the video here.
Oscar Munoz, United CEO, released the following statement on April 10, 2017, via the airline’s Twitter to address the incident:
United Airlines received intense criticism on Twitter and in the media for the statement, specifically for the word ‘re-accommodate,’ as many individuals believed the response to be tone-deaf, disingenuous, and an oversimplification of the incident. “The idea that any of the four passengers whom United employees ordered off the plane[, especially Dao,] were simply ‘re-accommodated’ is absurd,” Jack Holmes of Esquire argued. “The idea that a man who was physically dragged off the plane, wailing in pain as blood rushed out of his head, was just ‘re-accommodated’ is grotesque.” Mark Macias of CNBC states that Munoz “used language to refer to the customer, whose face was bloodied in the process, and the three others who were bumped off the plane, like they were some kind of commodity.”
So what is the true position of Munoz and United Airlines? Should the second statement be regarded as the official apology of Munoz and United Airlines, or does the first statement communicate the true position of the company? Was the second apology issued out of public pressure and an attempt to save the airline’s reputation and regular business rather than a genuine concern for passengers? What conversations occurred at United Airlines that drastically shifted the message between the first and second apology?
Should United Airlines have responded to this crisis situation differently?