United’s PR Goes Down in Flames

By Eric Seidel, CEO
The Media Trainers®

Just how sensitized are the members of your business that their actions can have dramatic, far-reaching ramifications? The world is too connected electronically, and just about anyone carries the technology that can put content on the global network.

Unbelievably, some frontlines people still don’t seem to learn from the well-publicized mistakes of others. Remember the now-ex Dallas cop who detained a pro football player and his wife outside a hospital where her mother was literally on death’s bed?

Now the story of a couple in San Francisco rushing to catch a United Airlines flight to Portland, OR, where the woman’s mother was near death. They had just received an urgent phone call asking them to get to the dying woman’s bedside. Unfortunately for them, the ticket agent they tried to deal with was unimpressed; it was more important for her to take her break. She would not give them tickets, despite the fact she apparently was the only available agent who could help and it was 30 minutes before the plane was scheduled to leave the gate.

Finally, another desk agent did get them tickets. They rushed to the gate and found the doors closed, although the plane had not yet pushed back. Another United agent was just as unimpressed as the ticket agent, telling the couple that they are forced to work long hours and need occasional breaks.

They missed the flight and had to wait three hours for the next one. They did reach the hospital before Melissa Evans’ mother died, but only by a short period of time. (Click on the video below to hear their full story in a Fox News interview.)

For its part, United issued the following statement:

“We are investigating the matter and apologize if he did not receive the service and compassion he deserved while booking a last minute flight. We are also giving him a goodwill gesture of compensation and hope to provide a better travel experience in the future.”

The airline’s response is weak and ill-conceived. The compensation cannot make up for the time the couple lost being with Ms. Evans’ mother. United missed an important opportunity to provide a senior manager to talk to any media making a request. Obviously, the ticket agent made a serious mistake that was repeated and magnified by the gate agent. Mistakes can be forgiven when human beings are making a sincere apology in-person.

An impersonal statement like this costs United Airlines in image and, perhaps to some degree, business, too.

Leave a Reply