United Airlines Commits Brand Suicide

As a marketing professional and teacher, I have always focused on the importance of customer service in my consulting, teaching and as a practitioner. Now there is no question airlines have the reputation for not caring for their customers. On a personal note, there was a time when I really enjoyed flying but now I hate it and do everything to avoid flying unless I really have to.

United Airlines dragging that poor guy off a flight last week, takes the cake. United Airlines has outraged a billion Chinese and Vietnamese along with Canadians, Americans and Europeans.

“Brand genocide.” A “world-class debacle on an epic scale.” A “gruesome, epic-scale fail.” These are a few of the phrases a top crisis manager uses to describe United Airlines’ removal-by-dragging of a passenger on an overbooked flight.

Eric Schiffer, CEO of ReputationManagementConsultants.com, states that United’s new gaffe is even worse than its last PR mess, in which it barred female travelers for wearing leggings.

“It’s a gruesome, epic-scale fail that follows their leggings crash landing. At United, their CEO ( It might be hard to believe, but it’s true: United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz was named PR Week’s Communicator of the Year in March.) is clearly clueless about dealing with the public and the customers, and they are embarking on brand genocide with a brand that was trusted and loved that is now causing people to generate stress hormones when they hear the name,” Schiffer said. “This is everything that you learn as a brander as to what not to do. It’s like they’ve gone to the Donald Trump School of Media Relations.”

“The CEO is absolving himself of anything, “Instead of taking responsibility, he just said there’s an internal investigation that will take place. It’s going to be next to impossible to completely recover from this unless they do something much bolder than their CEO’s announcement. Brand is all about trust, and what you are trusting an airline to do is to get you where you need to go. And the fact that they did this is going to eclipse any sort of advertisement and PR they are trying to do.”http://www.thewrap.com/united-brand-genocide-crisis-expert-says/

As Josh Freed points out in the Gazette in an age of anger, United has  allowed us all to laugh together at a new industry of airline jokes.

United’s new slogan should be:

     United: Putting the Hospital Back in Hospitality

     Board as doctors, leave as patients

     If we cannot beat our competitors, we beat our customers  was one that  came from China

    Full seating? prepare for a beating.

    There are three ways to board at United: pre-boarding, late boarding and water boarding.

The funniest line is actually a new ad by Southwest, a U.S. airline that’s started a PR campaign announcing: “We beat our competition, not our customers.”

Freed points out that United is a reminder that airlines make almost all of us feel powerless and worthless. Not only must we pay extra fees for our food, water, luggage, legroom and miniature seat — but we’re treated like livestock.

Let’s sum up the flying experience: You drive to the airport several hours early as instructed, then line up like cattle in mobbed ticket lines, before heading to security where you’re prodded, probed, X-rayed, interrogated and humiliated. Then you line up another 45 minutes at the gate watching better classes of flier enter before you. The ordeal supposedly ends when you board the plane and collapse with relief into your seat.

Yet even then you aren’t safe, because the ticket you purchased and paid for 5 weeks ago isn’t necessarily yours. It turns out there’s fine print in the contract no one but airline lawyers read that states they can take your seat away anytime, for any reason. About the only possible humiliation left is to kick you off the flight in mid-air — and charge you for the parachute.

Freed `s  description of airlines will be very familiar to travelers. They are the most visible symbol of every arrogant, aggravating service encounter you’ve ever had with companies who don’t care about costumer service, or customers.

United’s president symbolized this with his head literally in the clouds, initially suggesting the bloodied, beaten flier was a “volunteer” who had been re-accommodated. “He reminded us all of the parroting we hear from customer service people who chirp things like: “We are doing our best to rectify and optimize your service experience. “But all our agents are busy with an unusually high volume of calls. Please stay on hold until the next eclipse.”

If airlines want to bump people from their flight because they’ve over-booked — or suddenly need the seat — they should have to pay passengers enough to feel they were treated, not cheated.

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