On April 9, 2017 aboard
Flight 3411, United Airline personnel requested four passengers to give their
seats up to make room for crew members (Tovey, 2017). When one particular
passenger by the name of Dr. David Dao refused the request, airline and security personnel dragged
him out of his seat. It was all caught on video and posted to social media. The
videos went viral, with many people expressing anger over the incident. United
issued statements apologizing for the flights “overbooking,” but did not say
anything about Dr.Dao.

            While labeled as one of the biggest PR fails of the year,
it is important to note the true reason why United Airlines faced ample
backlash following the incident with Dr.Dao and how it is relevant to the
concept of PR and relationships. Blame “operational excellence.” United’s CEO Oscar
Munoz and the company’s leadership team focus on this as a strategy resulted in
the company aiming at efficiency, cost cutting and business operations that
they forget about customers — or anything else. All that mattered was keeping
the business operating, while trying to keep costs as low as absolutely
possible. Ultimately, customer satisfaction was ignored.

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            Brands need to view social media as a means of
maintaining their public reputation. Companies now have access to a means of a
two-way dialogue between their brand and their customers. Companies should
always be prepared to tackle any issues brought up by the other party. In the
case of United, it is the social media team’s refusal to give people proper
details about the incident that led to online criticism. Being proactive on
social media is important to ensure that a company’s reputation is effectively
maintained in the event of an impending PR disaster. This was one of the
crucial mistakes that United made as it took them several hours to respond to
the initial spread of the video on Twitter. 

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