Sometimes a company or an employee makes a mistake, and that can mean the end of the business in the long run or such horrendous damage to a brand. The action was taken by United Airlines forcefully removing a passenger due to overbooking a flight is such an action. NO amount of hiding behind rules of the carriage can excuse what is in effect criminal movement in that physical force is used to an extreme extent. This is, without a doubt, the worst public relations thing in the modern world I have come across for a brand and company. This will severely damage United Airlines in reputation and brand. The tourism industry is based on customer service, to lose this is to lose the business model. The actions of United Airlines is just not worth any response of support.
In business, a brand strategy includes developing customers trust, the recognition and then the continually crafting of a positive image. United Airlines does not fit into any of these categories now, they have in one simple thoughtless part of carriage conduct rules abused a customer, been filmed doing it, and it is now a global news story. The saying goes that there are no bad PR stories about a company, always try and work it to your better position. This, however, is beyond bad, and I am not sure that United Airlines can simply recover with an apology or settlement. The physical evidence of a customer being hurt and dragged screaming off a plane that the airlines booking system had created is no fault at any point that of the client.
I have worked and launched airlines, and I can categorically confirm that it is the majority of airlines policy to overbook flights, they do it believing that at least 12% will never turn up. Now the problem with overbooking a flight is it should not happen EVER in the modern world. This is a practice that I never endorsed in my involvements and is something I categorically disapprove of. Load factors should be set correctly so that an airline can obtain profitability per flight accordingly, and then only sell the seats that the airline has on the aircraft and no more, in fact, the argument should say that at least two seats should be left free for an emergency, etc… Unfortunately, the worst airlines in the world for overbooking a flight are the US carriers for domestic flights in general, they see this as the norm!
Building a company brand is the setting of expectations, memories and those customer relationships that account for a consumer’s decision to choose your business or product over another. It is that simple at the end of the day. United Airlines have failed miserably with this, and as a result, I shall never fly United Airlines for the foreseeable future, and I shall make sure no company employee ever does either as I will not risk our staff to such a poor customer service based company.
This is now an opportunity for other airlines to attack United Airlines with marketing campaigns on customer service, the experience and to change the way they operate, this could destroy United in the long run.