United Airlines — or Brands Behaving Badly

By now you’re probably aware of the situation: United airlines asked people to volunteer to take another flight Sunday because one from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky was over-booked and some United employees “needed to get to Louisville.”

When not enough people volunteered, United personnel started involuntarily choosing people. And when one man “selected” to deplane refused to give up his seat, they called security and physically dragged him off the plane. (The footage is shocking.)

How STUPID was that? It’s another example, albeit an extreme one, of brands’ shortsighted thinking in dealing with customers.

The damage to the brand will be significant and potentially be in the millions of dollars, in terms of negative PR and lost bookings. There will also likely be a lawsuit by the guy dragged off the plane and a settlement resulting in a payout and creating another opportunity for more bad press — reminding people of bad United customer service. It will take years to correct this perception.

Even though United, from a technical-legal standpoint, may have been within its rights to do this — what a colossally stupid idea. It resulted from lower-level personnel not thinking about how customer service (the lack thereof in the extreme) or their own behaviors impact the entire organization and the brand.

With more foresight and thought, United could have compensated these people or created incentives that would have resulted in a sufficient number of volunteers getting off the plane, avoiding the incident. Even if they had paid thousands of dollars it would have been a bargain compared to what they’ll incur now in:

  • Lost bookings
  • PR crisis management
  • Legal fees and settlement costs
  • Further negative press (and potential Congressional testimony)
  • Other compensation to the people on the flight who witnessed the incident

How does this continue to happen?

Graphic: Brad Petersen

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6 Responses to “United Airlines — or Brands Behaving Badly”

  1. Scott Barnett says at

    I fly United frequently since I live in NJ and one of their hubs is Newark. I find their employees to be generally miserable people, at least when I am interacting with them. I can only guess this starts at the very top – and they haven’t figured out yet that words aren’t nearly enough to make things better – they need actions to go along with it. They continue to be a “necessary evil” – I only use them because of the convenience of not changing planes – not (EVER) because are a brand that I want to be associated with or admire.

    They do not value their customers. That’s a much bigger problem than the millions they will now pay out in legal fees, or the extra thousands they could have spent to do this the “right” way. It doesn’t matter how much they spend, until they change the culture, it won’t matter.

  2. Greg Sterling says at


  3. Claire Schoen says at

    Reminds me of that wonderful video “United You Lost My Guitar” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo

    They’ve got a lotta ‘splainin to do, for sure.

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    This is far worse than that episode.

  5. Mark says at

    This is just another example of how capitalism is running amok in this country. It also personifies the police state that continues to emerge and force itself on us. United is another cog in this downward spiral.

  6. Larissa says at

    I was also appalled at the footage and United’s response. Besides making it clear they don’t care about their customers, I think it also reveals how their employees are not empowered to think (and act) outside the box when confronted with a problem that can quickly get out of hand just like this. The airline industry unfortunately gets away with being generally awful precisely because there is very little budget travellers can do to avoid them.

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