Faculty weigh in on United Airlines incident

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Adjuncts say what the company did wrong and how it can improve.

By Jakoby West


Two full-time adjuncts believe a recent incident involving United Airlines and the way the airline responded to the situation could be a teaching tool for public relations or business students on the proper procedure for handling a similar situation.

United Airlines has been dealing with an April 9 incident in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport that could harm their business permanently.

A passenger was forcibly removed from an overbooked United Express flight when he refused to give up his seat to make room for crew members, according to an April 14 article by the Associated Press.

When the passenger, Dr. David Dao, refused to give up his seat, he said he had patients he needed to tend to the next morning.

The incident was recorded on a cellphone video and was uploaded to the internet where it quickly went viral and turned into what the Associated Press called a public relations nightmare in an April 16 article.

Faculty on this campus who deal with business and public relations plan to use the incident as a teaching tool and weighed in on how the situation could have been improved.

“I think initially they didn’t apologize soon enough, which is something that PR professionals should always do when they are doing damage control,” full-time journalism adjunct Teresa Talerico said in an interview April 12.

Talerico teaches COMM 2330, Introduction to Public Relations.

Information about Dao has been coming out that isn’t relevant to the incident, which Talerico believes could be a tactic by United Airlines to remove some of the blame from the airline.

“It probably is a tactic, but I don’t think it is a good one,” she said. “To disgrace him in the media like that is just going to make the airline look worse.”

Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines’ parent company, took to morning talk shows to apologize on behalf of the airline, which is something she teaches that good public relations teams do, she said.

“They don’t try to deflect. They don’t try to blame. They apologize,” she said. “They say they’re going to see what they can do to prevent it from happening again. That’s what I tell my students. It’s really important to be upfront, honest and apologize.”

Talerico also stressed the importance of apologizing immediately to reassure the public and the company’s stockholders.

“People will associate United with this incident because it’s been in the news so much,” she said.

Full-time music business adjunct Julie Good, who owns her own internet marketing company and also teaches advertising, thinks the lack of good PR is to blame for the viral nature of this incident.

“The incident is garnering massive attention in the media because it was a public relations failure by United Airlines,“ Good said.

Good also said Munoz’s morning show appearances were tone-deaf.

The poor PR response by United Airlines and massive real-time media distribution of the story will be a teaching tool for some of the classes that Good and Talerico teach, they said.

“I plan on mentioning the incident in my next mass communications class,” Talerico said.

Talerico said social media is a massive component for businesses to be kept in check with incidents like this.

“Companies can’t really control the story as much when you have citizen journalists out there to record things and post them,” she said.

Munoz released three statements about the incident and United spokesperson Maggie Schmerin said that United Airlines has changed its policy on asking passengers to leave overbooked flights, according to the Associated Press.

Talerico believes United should keep the public informed with what they learned from their investigations into the incident and to hold the people responsible accountable for their actions when moving forward.

They should continue to give solutions to customers and clearly explain why the incident happened, she said.


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