If you check out the headlines, you would think United Airlines was having the worst 2017 ever. From leggings to ousted doctors to dead rabbits to very messy public statements, the airline and its CEO have become fodder for late-night comics and endless torrents of derision on social media. So, judging by the social media reaction, United is a disaster. But that metric is not the end-all, be-all, clearly.
Investors are tickled pink with United, which posted a higher stock rating despite all the troublesome headlines. Recent reports have the stock up another 5 percent, to an all-time high. That includes a bump of 10 percent since the dramatic footage of a doctor being dragged off a United jet hit the news in early April.
Has The Dust Settled for United?
So, is this a net win for United? Maybe, but don’t bet on it. The Dr. Dao debacle is only about a month old, and it’s not far from anyone’s mind. Consumers who may have chosen United in Q1 might make other arrangements leading into the busy summer travel season. Sure, price will always be the deciding factor for many air travelers, those who can afford to go elsewhere may, because of the PR issues … they just haven’t started making those decisions yet.
The other school of thought is that it may not matter at all because so many other airlines are having similar PR issues. Delta recently kicked a family off a flight. While the airline was essentially in the right, the PR optics of the video were not exactly ideal, especially the part where the flight attendant threatens to jail the parents of a preschooler over a seat they paid for. This came around the same time Delta reportedly booted a passenger who had to use the restroom before takeoff.
American Airlines caught some PR blowback after yet another video showed a flight attendant yanking a stroller away from a weeping mother. That attendant was suspended, but not before countless people saw and shared the video.
Lesson Learned For Major Companies
So constant and egregious have been the customer service foul-ups committed by the airlines, Congress is actually considering looking into airline customer service. This could lead to new regulations that force airlines to actually consider customer service. This might actually raise the bar set by the airlines, whose customers, according to a recent poll, are just happy fewer bags are being lost. That is not exactly the pinnacle of customer service, but when expectations are that low, maybe you have some PR wiggle room … but no amount of slack is forever.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.