Friday, September 21, 2018
Business

Re-accommodate this: 5 lessons United Airlines will learn the hard way

Buckle up, United. The airlines brand is now subterranean, lower even than the reputations of Wells Fargo, Sean Spicer and Walmart's Organic Spring Mix Salad with Dead Bat.

Few corporations have been pilloried in recent times as often or innovatively (thank you, Twitter and Late Night TV) as United. Most folks fly and wish they didn't. And the smartphone video of the Chicago goon squad manhandling the screaming-then-bloodied United Airlines passenger, a 69-year-old Kentucky doctor named David Dao, is already in the Corporate Stupidity Hall of Shame.

Enough said? Hardly. Here are five lessons for United and its customers to study up on real quick. Don't flunk the next pop quiz.

1. Social media went gaga after the United Airline video went viral of passenger Dao's forced ejection from his flight home to Kentucky. Many people tweeted that United's stock was down and the company's lost upward of a $1 billion thanks to its thuggish actions.

United's still taking a publicity pounding on social media. But so far, United has not lost much money in the stock market. Shares traded as high as $72 or so on Monday (April 10), then fell below $68.50 on Tuesday (April 11) after news of the UAL Flight 3411 fiasco went public. By the end of trading on Thursday (April 14) , the stock was back to $69.07. Impact: minimal. So much for the personal outrage of UAL investors. United's passengers? They are another matter.

2. United Airlines suffered through a battered brand, wrenching publicity and extra expenses by being so cheap at the start. When the airline said it needed four people to get off an overbooked plane, United at first offered $400, then $800 plus a hotel room and a promise to get on another Chicago-to-Louisville flight at 3 p.m. the next day. Some new reports indicated United then bumped its offer to $1,000. That enticement may have been drowned out by shrieking passengers and others yelling "Oh my God, what are you doing?" at aviation security officers summoned to remove (or in this case, bloody and drag) a paying, elderly passenger off the plane.

Rather than call in the mercenaries, the airline should have simply kept raising the price offered for passengers to voluntarily exit the plane. The Department of Transportation limits to $1,350 the amount an airline can compensate passengers who are involuntarily bumped from a plane. But there is no federal limit to how much an airline can offer volunteers to give up their seat.

So, let's say United had to offer $3,000 or a total of $12,000 for four to exit. Or $5,000. That's $20,000 for four. Sounds pretty cheap at this point.

Instead, this mess will cost United Airlines millions. Add it up. First, United says all customers on Flight 3411 from Sunday, April 9, will now be compensated for the cost of their tickets. Cha-ching. Second, passenger Dao has been in a Chicago hospital for days after suffering a reported concussion, broken nose and lost front teeth, requiring reconstructive surgery. At last check, United had not even been able to reach Dao to apologize directly. He (or at least his lawyers) are probably too busy listing the legal pain and suffering damages they plan to nail United with in court. Cha-ching. Third, United no doubt has called in its own outside legal counsel and crisis management teams to belatedly tell United CEO Oscar Munoz to shut up about Dao being "disruptive and belligerent" and instead memorize this phrase to say in public: "No one should ever be mistreated this way." Cha-ching. Finally, how much did United's brand decline in value? Cha-ching. Cha-ching, Cha-ching.

3. Dao, discharged Wednesday evening from the hospital, is obviously no dummy in choosing pitbulls for lawyers. Personal injury attorney Thomas Demetrio of Corboy & Demetrio has negotiated more than $1 billion in settlements. Dao is "shaken," Demetrio said at a Thursday press conference. "If you're going to eject a passenger, under no circumstances can it be done with unreasonable force or violence." A preliminary court hearing is set for Monday.

4. Compounding the outrage, United tossed four paying customers to make room for its own employees. The airline says they needed to get to Louisville in order to serve as the flight crew for a departing flight. So United employees are so important they merit mugging paying passengers? Bad move, United.

5. What better way to end this than with the word "re-accommodate"? Here's how United CEO Oscar Munoz used it. "This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United," he stated. "I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers." I like Time magazine's treatment of the "bizspeak" term used by Munoz, suggesting that the honored Euphemism of the Year — Trump aide Kellyanne Conway's "alternative facts" was supposed to be the easy winner — may now face serious competition from "re-accommodate."

Last year's Euphemism winner? "Locker room banter."

We truly are becoming masters of saying one thing but meaning something far more crude.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.

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