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UNITED AIRLINES: How to NOT Treat Customers, Kill Your Reputation

On Monday, United Airlines gave the world a great example of what NOT to do to your customers: have armed guards drag them away.

In case you haven’t heard yet, a United Airlines flight bound for Louisville, KY from O’Hare International airport was overbooked. However, United needed to get four of its employees to Louisville so that they could make their next flight.

The United Airlines staff asked if anyone would be willing to give up their seat in exchange for $400 and a hotel voucher, but no one volunteered (um…we will!). Then they upped their offer to $800 (oops, should have waited). But still, no one bit. They randomly selected four customers, paying customers, to give up their seats. One of the four, Dr. David Dao, refused to give up his seat because he had patients waiting for him in Louisville the following day.

Then Chicago Department of Aviation beat up and dragged Dr. Dao out of his seat, down the aisle and back into the airport. Videos and images of the incident and of Dr. Dao bruised and bloodied are everywhere.



Over the following days, The CEO of United Airlines struggled to admit fault, instead blaming the passenger for being aggressive and standing firmly behind his employees’ actions, which is part of what got him into the CEO seat.

It wasn’t until later Tuesday afternoon that the CEO finally sent out a genuine apology to the world, vowing that United would take action to right their wrongs. A little late, we think. Let’s look at what happened to United’s Online Reputation between Sunday evening and Tuesday afternoon:

UNITED AIRLINES: A Perfect Example of How NOT to Treat Customers

Google – Search “United Airlines” on Google and you’ll see that the top half of the first page is all the negative press and endless streams of Tweets going out about the incident.






Social Media – Every angle of the story is trending on social media platforms. It’s one of the more prominent trends on the Facebook newsfeed (to the right of your user profile) and Twitter is going crazy with negative reviews and memes. Even China’s Twitter-like site, Weibo is taking issue with the incident.




Youtube – Search “United Airlines” on Youtube and the first page is all about the incident. The video of Dr. Dao being dragged down the aisle plus numerous parodies about United’s new customer service experience.

Competitors Fill the Void – Jet Blue’s CEO took advantage of the situation, taking to the airwaves in an interview on CNBC. He talked about a better way to handle the situation – giving United Airlines employees the power to raise the incentive for customers to give up their seats (we’re flying JetBlue next time!).

Stock –We’ve seen reports of United’s stock dropping from 1% to more than 3%, shedding off half a billion to a billion dollars in their market cap. Good luck explaining that to investors.

Pop Culture – Talk show hosts are already having a heyday with this one! Ellen Degeneres and Jimmy Kimmel (Warning: foul language) have been roasting the airline. We’re sure there’s much more to come.

Memes Galore – While these memes are funny, it’s sad they are at the expense of Dr. Dao; our hearts go out to him and this unfortunate situation. However, United memes have gone viral and are being passed around the internet like business cards at a convention. In the modern age, this is all part of what happens to a business’s online reputation when a negative experience really blows-up.


Thank you for flying United!!!

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United will most likely have to spend the foreseeable future cleaning up this mess and explaining itself to its shareholders. In this information age, businesses can’t afford to pull inexcusable stunts like this. Things are made even worse when businesses aren’t prepared to respond appropriately to incidents like these. United should have done the right thing by putting their customers first, no matter what.