CommCore Blog and News

Not All Passenger Removals Damage Your Reputation

The CEO’s role as Communicator-in Chief is sharply contrasted when we compare Oscar Munoz of United Airlines with Ed Bastian of Delta. Both responded to passenger ejections and viral videos. The first got slammed, the second praised. Here’s a comparison:

United: One passenger refuses to leave his seat after being selected with 3 others by United ground staff to surrender their places to United crew members who needed to connect to another flight.

Delta: Trump supporter disrupts flight still on the ground, shouting pro-Trump slogans and a slew of anti-Clinton insults and 4-letter words while walking threateningly up and down the aisle.
Action: United staff call airport police to remove the passenger. Officers drag him screaming down the aisle in front of horrified passengers, causing bleeding and other injuries.
Action: Delta staff remove him from the plane, then allow him to return despite the disruption and passenger unease.
Reaction: Video goes viral on social media causing global condemnation and ridicule of United’s “friendly skies” branding.
Reaction: Video goes viral on social media. Critics pile on, claiming that he was allowed back on because he was white, and that in some similar cases non-white passengers had been removed.
Response: CEO Munoz responds with contradictory messages: First in corporate-speak that fails to convey concern; second with an e-mail to staff calling the passenger “belligerent” and supporting the ground
crew’s decision; finally, a day later he issues
a mea culpa, declares himself horrified and ashamed, and urges a review.
Response: CEO Bastian issues a public apology for the staff’s decision to let him back on the plane, acknowledges the “mistake,” bans the disruptor from Delta for life, promises a review of policies, and refunds the full fare to every other passenger on the flight.
Impact: Days of post-mortem criticism and ridicule of CEO and the airline in media and social media, a short-term $1 billion decline then recovery in the airline’s stock value, and
a pending lawsuit by the injured passenger.

Impact: Near universal praise for Bastian’s immediate concern, call for policy review, and quick remedy for upset passengers. The story disappears after one news cycle.
The Lesson: In a “crisis,” when the CEO is the Chief Brand Ambassador and Communicator in Chief, every comment or action has consequences. A corporate culture of effective stakeholder communications from the top is critical to maintaining or restoring an organization’s reputation.