American v. United: No Contest in Communications

On Friday, American Airlines demonstrated that its communications department actually understands how to communicate, in direct contrast to its competitors at United Airlines.

An American flight attendant got too aggressive with a young mother on one of its flights on Friday, whacking her in the head with a stroller while she held her one year-old twins as she boarded the plane.  When this reduced the mother to tears, other passengers began to protest the actions of the flight attendants, and one large guy got up to confront the flight attendants.  At least one smartphone caught the man telling the flight attendant “you try that will me and I’ll knock you flat,” with the attendant replying “go ahead, try it.  Hit me.”

Wow.  Not the images of your employees you want making the rounds of the Internet and fake news media.

Finally, another American employee enters the plane, calms the situation, and the mother and her twins leave the plane.  Here is the statement American Airlines issued in the wake of this potential PR disaster:

“The airline released a statement late Friday saying that it was ‘disappointed by these actions’ and had already started to investigate the incident.

‘What we see on this video does not reflect our values or how we care for our customers,’ the company said in a statement. 

‘We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident. 

‘We are making sure all of her family’s needs are being met while she is in our care.’

‘After electing to take another flight, we are taking special care of her and her family and upgrading them to first class for the remainder of their international trip.

‘The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care.

‘In short, we are disappointed by these actions. The American team member has been removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident.’ “

Here are the main elements of this statement:  1. We’re sorry.  2. This behavior is not our standard and we are committed to doing better.  3. The American employee who acted in appropriately is being disciplined.  4. We are taking special care of the customer who was treated badly.

Perfect.  How hard was that?

Now, contrast that to the communications fiasco that United CEO Oscar Munoz engaged in after the widely-viewed incident in which a bloodied, paying passenger was forcibly removed by O’Hare police from a United flight so United employees could take his seat.

In his first statement, Munoz said “our employees did nothing wrong.”  No apology, no commitment to doing better, no care whatsoever for his paying customer.

In his second statement, Munoz said that the passenger had to be removed so his employees could relocate.  Still no apology, still no commitment to doing better, still no concern for the customer.

In his third statement, Munoz finally apologized and managed to commit to reviewing the airline’s procedures.  Very little concern for the customer.

A week after the incident, Munoz issued a fourth statement in which he said no airline employees would be disciplined, and it was all the fault of “the system.”

On many of its flights, United’s flight attendants thank their passengers and acknowledge that they have a choice in airlines.  Folks, if you have a choice between flying United or American, that choice is pretty easy at this point.


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