When United Airlines decided to drag a 69-year-old doctor from his seat on a plane last month, it did more than just harm a passenger, outrage the public, and send its stock plummeting overnight. It also created an amazing opportunity for other organizations to learn exactly how not to handle a crisis in the public eye!
The inciting incident, caught on fellow passengers’ smartphones for all to see, was bad enough, but what only made matters worse was the tone-deaf statement by United CEO Oscar Munoz apologizing for having to “re-accommodate” the passengers. (Amazingly, Munoz was awarded PR Week’s U.S. Communicator of the Year just one month earlier!)
Everyone can learn some important crisis management lessons from United’s mismanagement, as Inc. breaks down:
- Forecast risk – United had just dealt with a PR blunder weeks earlier when it booted two girls from a flight for wearing leggings, so it should already have been prepped to handle a new public reaction
- Create a response team – In this case, as PR expert Adele Cehrs says, United should have had a PR person savvy in crisis communications, an attorney, and a group of customer advocates ready to go
- Address social media – Respond to online outrage early so it’s clear you’re aware of the situation and are on top of it, before the backlash gets heated
- Train your team – Don’t keep employees in the dark during a crisis; keep them informed and educated, and
- Be prepared – Since United regularly overbooks their flights, they should have been much more ready to handle a possible crisis as a result; if they’d planned better in advance they might have been able to avoid the worst of the fallout.
Resilience professionals who attended DRI2017 earlier this year got to hear from an airline team that’s well-versed in handling a crisis with a human touch. JetBlue’s Yuri Pacheco and Penny Neferis presented “The Human Side of Emergency Response and Business Continuity,” showing how their company learned to support its customers, employees and communities during and after a crisis situation. You can download the presentation slides from the MyDRI Resource Library.