Make us your home page
Instagram

How much would you put up with to avoid United Airlines?

United Airlines' self-induced crisis last week lost the company points on social media, and dollars in its market cap. But will it actually lose customers as a result? One survey says yes.
[Associated Press file photo]

United Airlines' self-induced crisis last week lost the company points on social media, and dollars in its market cap. But will it actually lose customers as a result? One survey says yes. [Associated Press file photo]

United Airlines' self-induced crisis last week lost the company points on social media, and dollars in its market cap. But will it actually lose customers as a result?

The results of a clever experiment published Monday by Morning Consult suggest that — for the moment, at least — the answer is yes. When choosing between two identical (and hypothetical) flights, people who said they had heard about the United news in recent weeks strongly preferred flying with another airline. Many still chose a competitor's flight even when it cost significantly more and came with a layover.

The online experiment was led by Kyle Dropp, the chief research officer at Morning Consult, a digital media and polling company. Dropp's experiment presented respondents with a pair of flights as they might appear on Kayak.com, asking them which they would choose if they were flying from New York to Chicago. One option was with United and the other with American Airlines.

At first, the two flights were identical in every respect, flying nonstop for about three hours, at a cost of $204. For a casual airline traveler with no brand loyalty, we could expect this decision to come down to a coin flip, and for those who said they had not heard of the United scandal, it was: 49 percent chose the United flight, and 51 percent chose the American flight.

But among respondents who had heard about the passenger who was dragged off the United flight, the result was wildly lopsided, with just 21 percent of those respondents picking United.

The researchers pressed on this preference further, testing the strength of respondents' aversion to United by making changes to the choice. One variation gave the American flight a layover in Cleveland, adding about three hours of travel time. Another option increased the cost of the American flight by $66. A third did both these things, asking people to choose between a nonstop United flight for $204 and a one-stop American flight for $270.

These changes did push some people to prefer United, but others still would not budge. About 44 percent of respondents who said they had heard of United recently preferred to fly American even when the journey cost $66 more and took an additional three hours.

Of course, this preference for American over United may have been driven by other factors, too. Respondents may have had stronger pre-existing brand allegiances to American or been members in the company's rewards program. The hypothetical choice did not actually make respondents spend real money, either. Real consumers may be more likely to let their pocketbooks decide, particularly in an industry so dominated by price. Companies like Kayak and Expedia probably have an early sense of shoppers' habits but, for the moment, there's little public evidence to go on.

One final bright spot for United is the hope that this aversion fades quickly. The researchers plan to repeat this experiment in the weeks and months to come. It's possible consumers will turn their attention to something else by then. On the internet, the half life of outrage seems only to get shorter.

The Morning Consult's experiment included a nationally representative online sample of 1,975 adults on April 12.

How much would you put up with to avoid United Airlines? 04/17/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 1:08am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, New York Times.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Last steel beam marks construction milestone for Tom and Mary James' museum

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom and Mary James on Wednesday signed their names to the last steel beam framing the 105-ton stone mesa that will be built at the entrance of the museum that bears their name: the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.

    The topping-out ceremony of the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art was held Wednesday morning in downtown St. Petersburg. Mary James (from left), husband Tom and Mayor Rick Kriseman signed the final beam before it was put into place. When finished, the $55 million museum at 100 Central Ave. will hold up to 500 pieces of the couple's 3,000-piece art collection. [Courtesy of James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art]
  2. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks

    Business

    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  3. Author Randy Wayne White could open St. Pete's biggest restaurant on the pier

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The story begins with Yucatan shrimp.

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, pilot Mark Futch, Boca Grande, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and author and businessman Randy Wayne White,  Sanibel, exit a Maule Super Rocket seaplane after taking a fight around Tampa Bay off the St. Petersburg waterfront, 6/28/17.  White and his business partners are in negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg to build a fourth Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier with a second event space on the pier according to White. The group met near Spa Beach after a ground breaking ceremony for the new pier. "We want to have our business open by the time the pier opens," said White. Other Dr. Ford restaurants are located on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers Beach. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
  4. Guilty plea for WellCare Health Plans former counsel Thaddeus Bereday

    Business

    Former WellCare Health Plans general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District …

    WellCare Health Plans former general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday, pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida stated Wednesday. [LinkedIn handout]
  5. DOT shows alternatives to former Tampa Bay Express toll lanes

    Transportation

    TAMPA — State transportation officials are evaluating at least a half-dozen alternatives to the controversial Tampa Bay interstate plan that they will workshop with the community over the next 18 months.

    Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at the DOT’s Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Avenue.