It’s been a hellish week for United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz. The video of passenger David Dao being forcefully ejected from his seat to make way for a United crew member has gone viral, leading to a public relations nightmare for the airline. Munoz’s initial response, loaded with euphemisms and sounding awfully defensive, did not help matters. He has since issued clarifications, but the damage has been done.
Of course who’s not having a hellish week is anyone in the PR industry not on United’s payroll. There have been plenty of opportunities for these agencies to shine in the media, dispensing free advice on all the cable outlets. Some of it is even helpful.
That said, I have been in the communications business for more than two decades now. I know what works and what doesn’t. And I’ve been known to dispense invaluable advice like the time a fellow from California came to visit the Weekly Standard in 1996. He had this idea of reading the news on your computer. But I told him this was a terrible idea. Who wants to read news on a computer screen? "But hey, good luck to you Matt Drudge!" I wonder where he is now? (Yes, this really happened.)
So allow me to offer some sage wisdom on damage control. There are essentially four points to keep in mind:
1. Your apology must be heartfelt:
I am truly sorry for this passenger. Even someone with a possibly questionable background—and our attorneys and investigative reporters are still trying to dig dirt on this guy—should not have been treated this way.
2. Be comforting but concise:
Let me assure you that will never happen again. And by "you" I am of course referring to our Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, and Premier 1K members. They will never be treated this way.
3. Have a solution:
It is clear the way we handle overbooking is problematic. So instead of offering credits and incentives, we will give passengers the chance to spin a wheel of fortune. Who doesn’t love to spin? Maybe you’ll get $500 towards your next flight. Or stuffed into an overhead bin? Either way, we’re bringing excitement back into flying!
4. And when all else fails, deflect:
So how ’bout that Sean Spicer guy?
Before you know it, we’ll all be flying the friendly skies!