After a brief stint as the Internet’s most despised entity, the United Airlines incident reaches some sort of conclusion, with the victim accepting compensation and the CEO of United Airlines delivering a public apology.
A deep contrite apology. Well-crafted overall, if I may add. Written to appease supporters of the victim. And to assure worried passengers that there wouldn’t be any reoccurrence.
Technical finesse aside, I wonder how well this apology would work in re-establishing faith for United Airlines.
You don’t have to be a crisis management expert to know that UA’s worst mistake remains their first response to the matter. What they did in the so-called Golden Hour of crisis management. During these theoretical minutes, emotions run highest, and correspondingly the audience-at-large are sponges eager for conclusions and convictions. In the case of UA, they chose to be defensive. They defended their staff, they defended their practices. Worst of all, they tried to shift fault onto the victim, which then resulted in the victim’s past being publicised. In short, it felt almost as if UA was hungry for the world to hate them.
Hungry for the world to hate them because their responses loudly declared two horrific statements.
We can do this because we have the right to.
We will do this when we deem there to be a need to.
I don’t claim to be a sociologist. But I bet money that it’s these two declarations that fuelled public anger so dramatically.
We can do this because we have the right to
To be honest, I wasn’t too affected by the United Airlines incident, though it did horrify for a while. This is one of the airlines I wouldn’t consider taking. Anyway, my mileage plans “lock” me to other airlines.
The fracas does remind me of something else, though. An incident involving my compulsory military conscription in Singapore. This incident ultimately resulted in me losing several thousand dollars of entitlement/compensation/reward. In additional to having to live with a sour taste for the rest of my life.
Without going into the finer details of my episode, the rights and the wrongs, let me just say that when I finally succeeded in forcing my commanding officer to give a response, he said something to the likes of Oscar Munoz’s initial statement.
Not exactly “we can do this because we …”
But similarly, a not-so-veiled statement insisting that my military unit only did what it has the authority to.
Of course, the man stood down from this position ultimately, after I dished out a waterfall of other grievances. Thereafter, he struggled to divorce himself of responsibility, before mumbling some semblance of an apology. (To be fair to him, he also offered a solution. A non-feasible one) Now, I’m not bringing this up to revive the matter, I’ve long accepted that nothing could be done without greater loss on my part. I’m mentioning my episode to show that apologies achieved through such means will seldom be convincing. Few would consider them as sincere or genuine, just as I did, because earlier responses during the Golden Hour already established the actual mentality of the person(s) involved.
In the case of my commanding officer, his conviction that he did no wrong. And shouldn’t be the one forced to attend to me.
In the case of the United Airlines incident, that it is really the worldwide fallout that cornered the airline into an apology. Without that, I doubt Mr. Munoz would have said what he just did.
Not to imply UA is going to fold because of this, or that the world wouldn’t forgive them. Given enough time, I believe they’d recover. Yet, to actuate this recovery, how much money and time would they have to spend? On top of which there would for a long time remain a threat, one that affects the whole aviation industry. Do you agree with me when I say many passengers would now be clutching their cellphones, eagerly, tremblingly, waiting to film the next fracas? Would UA itself be subjected to increased, even unfair scrutiny, by every other passenger it ferries from now on?
To an extent, I pity the better staff of UA stuck working for them.
Another effect of the United Airlines Incident
As a side point, the drama on board Flight 3411 added to a contentious worldwide practice. That of people releasing self-taken video evidence, followed by netizens calling for blood.
In Singapore, this is a current area of concern. More and more government officers, and their associated pundits, are condemning the practice.
Just to be clear, I’m neither supportive nor condemning of this practice. I’m too appalled by either extreme to dare form an opinion.
On one hand, you have really frightening persecution of supposed culprits. I’m not talking about Munoz, but cases of people being misidentified as culprits, and being harassed.
On the other hand, you have bureaucrats like Munoz and my commanding officer. Who would likely have gotten away with everything, had there not been some sort of larger involvement? (In my case, I had the support of a MP)
To the larger public, does the latter not encourage that frightening assumption? That you would lose any case against a powerful bureaucrat, however maligned you are, unless you have the anger of the public behind you? Correspondingly, does this not also stroke the indignity and the bloodlust of a public always hungry for the next scandal?
I think the United Airlines incident really did the world a terrible disfavour.
They might have silenced the victim with money and suppressed the hype with beautiful words. But all of us will live with the repercussion of this incident for a good many years to come.
I put this here ‘cos I couldn’t work out where to add this above.
The Golden Hour, and its all-important crisis plan.
Why do so many organisations lack a realistic crisis plan. One that considers all potential major predicaments, and the most apt responses to react with.
Is it because these organisations see themselves as being so infallible? Or is it because the exercise involved is so unpleasant? Dangerous too, as in, how many dare to talk of such things before a boss?
And for those organisations that do have some sort of a crisis plan, the sort written to protect legal and financial interests, how often do these end up costing the organisations far more?
The tragedy of it all.