02Jun, 2017

How to Best Handle United Airlines’ Reputation Damage

public relations, How to Best Handle United Airlines’ Reputation Damage-Public Relations and Communications Business Portal News Indonesia

Analyzed by Ivan Christianto – PR Consultant of Fortune PR


A crisis is an unavoidable situation that PR practitioners must handle. It is also an unexpected situation that could damage brand reputation and could be fatal for your business. We already heard a few major crises for PR practitioners, but one crisis stood out and went viral in social media recently; United Airlines reputation damage.

Based on an article published in The Huffington Post by Linda Dunbar, recorded on video was Dao, a passenger of United Airlines who got molested by security officers. The video went viral in social media, and United Airlines customer hospitality received lots of criticism and mockery from the public.

From this case, we learned that United Airlines faced a major reputation crisis. Written in her article, Dunbar mentioned several tips for PR pros on how to handle this type of crisis. We can emphasize a few important points from Dunbar, and analyze it deeper.

  1. Remember to be human

As a PR pro, you should remember to be human. Showing your empathy is the first and most important point because your customers are also human. Place yourself in your customers’ shoes, ask yourself how to handle the situation. Then start reflecting the situation to yourself instead of consulting with other people. Once you have grounded yourself in your own humanity, you will be ready to take the next step of what you have to do. In serving human, quality experience is the most important to your consumers. They want to feel safe and comfortable when they use your service. So, showing empathy is the key to winning consumers heart.


  1. Do not blame the victim

In the services’ business such as commercial airline business, customers’ happiness is number one. To gain customers, airline companies must work on increasing customers’ empathy and trust towards the business. Reflecting on United Airlines’ service, no one will ever be willing to trust a company that molested their customers’ who already paid to get to their destination. United Airlines just instantly eliminate the public’s trust by showing the lack of empathy and acting irrational.


  1. You just won a legal battle? Don’t get too excited yet

Winning a legal argument does not mean that you win public’s hearts and minds. In social media, winning a legal battle doesn’t mean you can also win your customer’s heart. Remember Prita vs. Omni Hospital case that happened in Indonesia few years back? They might accept the legal argument, but the incident will be always stuck in their hearts and minds. Once they lose their respect, most likely they won’t use your services anymore. Remember, no customer, no revenue. So when you try to recover from a crisis, emphasize on fixing your reputation. In addition, showing you are right doesn’t necessary means you are right. It’s more about how you handle the problem, because people will always run for the current information.


  1. Remember: no one can easily escape from a crisis!

In fact, most of the time a crisis is a monumental failure in executions, judgments or ethics, an underlying business or personal lapse, that has nothing to do with PR but later become a job for PR pros to resolve. Those failures are then often compounded by a tone-deaf response. So when working on resolving crisis, you must establish your empathy and allay fears, change systems, processes and people fast before the negative judgments make the worse out of the situation.


  1. Use plain language to communicate

Speak in plain Indonesian and English when communicating to your internal and external publics. Be straightforward and don’t try to complicate things.


  1. Consistency in communications

When in crisis, the messages for your internal and external publics must be the same. You must show consistency so that your publics can understand what you mean and there is no false rumors or misinformation running around without you knowing. Also, stick to your company values and implement it to the employees. For example, if the company’s tagline is “Fly the friendly skies”, you and all employees should be friendly all the time, no matter what their role in the company. Your tagline describes your company’s promise and you should reflect it in your action.


  1. Make sure you have the right people

Establish a principle-based environment, not just rule-based. Trust your people you work with and give them a maneuver.

As a PR pro, you must be ready to face unexpected crises. You must have a crisis plan so your company can avoid the reputational problem that could damage your business. When the time comes, turn on the crisis alarm and always ensure that you provide an update on the current situation about your company. In the service industry, it’s not just about Business to Business (B2B) or Business to Consumers (B2C) communication, but it’s paying attention to human to human communication.

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