It took United Airlines exactly one day to realize it was fighting a losing PR game. In a stunning (but hardly surprising) change in tone, CEO Oscar Munoz is now unequivocally apologizing for the passenger ejection on Sunday that left a man bloodied and bruised.
Here’s Munoz’s letter to employees published on United Hub:
The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.
I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.
It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.
I promise you we will do better.
This Story Is Far From Over
United has contained the wildfire, but it is not yet fully extinguished. United’s stock price has rebounded nicely from its dismal lows earlier today and I have to think Munoz’s job is safe once again.
But we still don’t know the fallout. There are still so many variables, like whether Dr. Dao will now start making rounds in the media.
Underscoring what a worldwide issue this has become, the New York Times sent out an alert to all subscribers about the apology from Munoz and the story is still cast as “BREAKING NEWS” on the top of the home page.
This was the front page of the Chicago Sun Times this morning–
Or the hometown Lexington Courier Journal–
Yes, this is the same week that tensions between the USA and Syria, Russia, China, and North Korea are mounting. The same week a bomb killed 45 Egyptian Christians in Cairo. The same week an explosion just tore into a bus carrying a soccer team from their hotel to their stadium in Germany.
But this is breaking news because this is a story that fundamentally is about human dignity, law and order, and power.
What Munoz Left Out of Letter
Munoz’s letter contains no excuses. He could have attempted to distance United Airlines from the situation. After all, it was supposedly-trained airport police that did the beating on a United Express flight, not even “real” United. There’s a plausible degree of separation right there. But no one would have accepted it. No one except the most seasoned aviation geeks would have been able to understand the distinction. So no excuses is exactly what was necessary. Regardless of how the guilt should be allocated, United needed to do everything in its power to start to move the issue behind them.
I’m going to let this issue sit today. I am working on a detailed legal piece arguing that United’s actions were legal but unethical, but will hold that for now.
Whatever your view on this issue and how it was handled, United dug its own grave by blundering the initial response. Blue skies may not be ahead for United, but in presenting a contrite letter, there is now at least the possibility for that.