When it comes to crisis public relations, United Airlines cannot seem to get out of its own way. The airline is in the news, yet again, for a catastrophic customer service error, leaving a dog dead, motivating countless numbers of people to rage against the company.
This time, the incident in question involves a pet puppy dying on a flight. According to multiple media reports, a United flight attendant ordered an 11-year-old girl to put her pet carrier in an overhead compartment on the airplane. When the girl told the flight attendant there was a live animal inside, the attendant continued to insist the carrier be placed in the compartment.
The puppy died while the plane was en route to its destination.
Now, United is playing damage control, failing — again. The first response from United was that the flight attendant did not know there was a live animal in the carrier. This account was quickly and loudly disputed by the girl, her family, and multiple other passenger-witnesses.
These other passengers took to social media to back up the girl’s story, sharing what they witnessed on Twitter and Facebook. Their accounts reconciled with the girl's; that she tried to explain there was a live animal in the carrier, but that the flight attendant refused to listen.
Reportedly, the girl's mother attempted to intervene, but the flight attendant was insistent that the carrier be placed in the overhead. United initially released a statement claiming the flight attendant "had not heard or did not understand" the passenger. However, that statement, too, was attacked online. United responded with the following: "This was a tragic accident that should never have occurred, as pets should never be placed in the overhead bin. We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them. We are thoroughly investigating what occurred to prevent this from ever happening again . . . "
Apparently, according to an article in the Associated Press (AP), this happens more often on United versus its competitors. Last year, 18 animals died while being transported by the carrier, accounting for about 75 percent of all animal deaths on U.S. airplanes.
These were animals who died in cargo holds of airliners. It's still a rare event — about one in every 4,500 animals transported.
Still, the headlines and the response by United do not shine a positive light on the company — or its customer service. And, of course, this is not the only negative public relations United has recently faced. Last year, headlines roared about the "violent removal" of a passenger and the death of another pet, which made the news after the family sued, claiming United employees cremated the animal without permission in order to destroy the evidence.
Ronn Torossian is one of America’s foremost Public Relations executives as founder/CEO of 5WPR, a leading independent public relations Agency. The firm was honored as PR Firm of the Year by The American Business Awards, and has been named to the Inc. 500 List. Torossian is author of the best-selling "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations." For more of Ronn Torossian's reports, Go Here Now.
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