United Airlines Flight 3411: A Case Study


You’ve probably seen or at least heard about the incident on United flight 3411 this past week and the backlash that ensued when a video of a passenger being forcibly removed from the plane went viral.

United CEO Oscar Munoz released two statements in the 48 hours immediately following the incident. The first was criticized as being void of emotion. The second reflected a tone of remorse and the promise from Munoz that United takes full responsibility and “will do better.”

Read Munoz’s first statement here and his second here.

Four days after the initial event, United released a third statement outlining the steps being taken to ensure that something of this nature does not happen again.

  1. United will not ask law enforcement officers to remove passengers from flights unless it is a matter of safety and security.
  2. They are conducting a “thorough review of policies that govern crew movement, incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how [they] handle oversold situations and an examination of how [they] partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement.”
  3. They will “fully review and improve [their] training programs to ensure [their] employees are prepared and empowered to put [their] customers first.”

A report of the review findings and action-plans will be reported by April 30. See the full statement here.

Part of the public conversation since the incident questioned the legality of an airline to remove a paying customer from a flight. What may come as a shock to some is that they are completely justified in doing so. Never have I seen anyone manhandled as United passenger Dr. David Dao was on April 9, but I have been on numerous flights where the attendants ask for volunteers to switch flights because of an overbooking situation.

I am no expert in air travel, so I turned to extensive research and reading to see what those more knowledgable than I had to say in response to the situation itself, the course of action to be taken now, and the complex legalities of airline travel.

I found this New York Times article particularly helpful in explaining the various parties involved in the aftermath, including the Senate commerce committee, the Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Aviation.

I also recommend reading the thoughts from The Pilot Wife blog. I think she does a great job of presenting both sides of the story in a relatively objective manner.

Public Relations classes will be studying this case in the future. What we do as communication professionals is not always easy, and I send my encouragement to those working tirelessly at United to help make this situation right and make changes to their plan to ensure this does not happen again.





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