United Airlines – worst PR in airline history?

Okay, one could argue that an airline crash is worse PR than this. But those are usually freak accidents that are almost impossible to anticipate.

Today’s news? That United had a guy DRAGGED off a plane for refusing to give up a seat he had paid for? And video to go with it? I don’t think the Richter scale of episodic public relations earthquakes can register a tremor that sizable.

One of the best lines I saw on Twitter was from a guy who drily noted that United already has business class and economy, as well as premium economy for folks who actually want to be treated in a humane fashion on a flight and have space around them to work and not have the back of some lice-ridden guy’s head in their lap. “And now,” the tweet said, “Fight Club class!”

That sounds about right.

This is a public relations nightmare. Nothing short of the mea culpa of the century is going to help United out of this strait jacket.

They got things off on a very bad foot when they suggested the man wasn’t so much dragged away in humiliation but was instead, wait for it, “reacommodated.” Just like those poor souls in San Quentin or Guantamo.

They also said they were reviewing their actions. Gee, ya think? I mean, having uniformed thugs DRAG a passenger off a plane in full view of 300 iPhone-toting videographers? That’s cause for review?

As Bugs Bunny would say, “What a bunch of maroons.”

The big problem here is how United handled their overbooking situation. Pay the guy a $1000 if you have to. Announce a free trip to Tahiti for someone willing to give up their seat, with free peanuts the entire trip. But DO NOT DRAG PAYING PASSENGERS OFF YOUR AIRPLANE.

The underlying issue, of course, is overbooking. It’s legal and it’s somewhat understandable given how some passengers don’t show up for flights. But there’s got to be a way to stop this from happening in the future.

I mean, have you ever bought tickets for Phanton of the Opera (starring the head of United Airlines, apparently) on Broadway and have the usher say, “Oh, sorry, we sold your ticket twice. The theatre owner’s cousin will be taking your seat. But here’s $200 for your trouble.” I don’t think so.

Even Roger Goodell and the NFL (a league that has the moral compass of a Bolivian dictator) don’t, to my knowledge, oversell Super Bowl tickets and then drag Joe from Oklahoma out of his seat so some other dude can enjoy the game.

Shame on you, United. Shame, shame, shame.

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