While United Airlines struggles to cope with a developing PR crisis over the forceful removal of a passenger from one of their flights, its competitors have taken the opportunity to land a few blows.
Emirates Airlines, in a video celebrating its TripAdvisor Best Airline in the World 2017 award, struck out at the United incident.
The video displays a quote from United CEO Oscar Munoz which says, “Those [Gulf] airlines aren’t airlines,” before pointing to the several awards Emirates received.
It ends by reworking United’s slogan “Fly the friendly skies” to “Fly the friendly skies … this time for real”.
Royal Jordanian was more pointed in its reference to the violent removal, tweeting out “We are here to keep you #united Dragging is strictly prohibited,” with a picture of a ‘no smoking’ sign.
Turkish Airlines took a more muted stance on Twitter, linking to a story about a baby born aboard one of its flights, saying: “We just do our best with love for our guests’ safety and comfort at all times”.
For United itself, the situation has turned into a significant PR crisis.
Videos from the incident at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport showed a man screaming as officers yanked him from his seat and dragged him down the aisle on his back, his body limp, blood spilling from the mouth, glasses askew and his shirt pulled up above his navel and spread like wildfire on social media.
An initial statement from Munoz to his employees only helped to stoke the flames due to its use of ‘disruptive and belligerent’ to describe the passenger’s behaviour and ‘re-accommodate’ to describe his forceful removal.
The backlash, according to The Guardian, wiped out nearly $1 billion of the company’s value on Tuesday.
Munoz issued a second apology shortly afterwards, saying the incident was “truly horrific” and that “no one should be mistreated in this way”.
The airline has also offered to reimburse all passengers on the flight over the incident. At least three officers involved in the incident have been put on leave, according to Chicago’s Aviation Department.
The overall impact on United, however, may be limited.
Bloomberg columnist Mohamed A El-Erian says frequent travellers are less shocked by the incident, having had similar experiences.
“They know that airlines offer passengers incentives to give up their seats when flights end up oversold, that sometimes passengers are involuntarily bumped off a flight, and that the airline has a legal right to do so.
Some of us have even been on flights, seated and ready to leave the gate, when suddenly there is a need to make space and someone has to deplane.” source – Reuters