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The Trust Issues Emerging in United Airlines

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Starting as a mail carrying company in 1925, United Airlines widely expanded its business endeavors over the years. United Airlines is a brand and transportation service that allows its customers to fly cargo and travel across the globe. Its goal as a company is to: “help unite the world by connecting people to the moments that matter most. This shared purpose drives us to be the best airline for our employees, customers and everyone we serve”. The company has endured many blows but managed to persevere and continue its growth. Securing a merger with Continental Airlines in 2010 after filing for bankruptcy 8 years earlier was monumental for the company. This was highly significant because of its new top-ranked global status.

After the plan to collaborate commenced, United Airlines’ competition including Delta, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines were forced to consider making mergers themselves. This change in the climate of airline competition depicts how much of a powerhouse United Airlines was and remains. United Airlines’ Negatives Within the last year, United Airlines has suffered a major black eye due to the repeated poor treatment of passengers – both people and animals. In April of 2017, a doctor on an overbooked flight from Chicago to Louisville was dragged off of the plane after refusing to give up his seat on the flight, citing his need to visit patients in Louisville the next morning. Tyler Bridges, a passenger on the flight, recorded the altercation and posted the video on Twitter. The video footage spread like wildfire across the internet, causing many people to chastise the airline personnel for the way they handled the situation.

Less than a year later, in March of 2018, United Airlines once again upset passengers when it forced a passenger to store her family’s dog in the overhead bin during a flight from Houston to New York. Despite the apparent anger among passengers, the attendant demanded the dog go in the overhead bin for the three-hour flight. “Passengers who said they were on the flight expressed frustration with United and the attendant who they say insisted the dog be stowed overhead”. When the plane landed and the overhead bins were opened, the dog was found dead. Though the airline claimed it had no knowledge that there was a dog in the bag, the mother and daughter said they both told the flight attendant it was a dog, but were still forced to put the dog in the overhead bin. United issued an apology, stating it took full responsibility for the incident and that it never should have happened. Many years prior to these customer service fiascos, in 2001, United had to deal with the problems that arose with the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks and the safety of airplanes. Prior to the attacks, United had a reputation for unsafe airplanes taking flight, leading to fatal crashes and hundreds of deaths.

In a five-year time span in the 1980s, there were 11 fatal accidents, causing upwards of 400 deaths. This number grew even more 10 years later. Between 1997 and 2001, there were 14 fatal accidents, causing more than 600 deaths. These numbers do not account for “suicide and sabotage”. Rather, the accidents were caused by maintenance issues, negligence and some freak events. Then, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks came, which were not only a public relations disaster for United but also a devastating loss for the entire country. According to USA Today, there is no concrete evidence of how the hijackers got into the cockpit of the planes that were hijacked on the United Airlines flights. This trend of accidents due to plane damage and oversight issues caused trust issues within the industry, the type of trust issues that are hard to overcome.

United Airlines’ Positives

As one of the world’s larger airlines, United’s “strong international and regional alliances” pose as areas of strength. A large positive of United Airlines is exemplified in the fulfillment of its mission statement surrounding connecting people scattered across the globe. The airline provides flights to 357 destinations, 124 international airports, and 48 countries. All flights to and from these destinations totaled to 148 million passengers in 2017 alone. Regarding past incidents that left United’s publics with a bad taste in their mouths, the company has taken the initiative to revise various protocol and guidelines for employees. In response to complaints about how it handles customer service debacles, it called for new procedures to better handle overbooking, reimbursements and mishandling of baggage. The results of these alterations can be seen in the 94 percent decrease in the amount of involuntary denied boardings within a year of proposed change. These procedures provide convenience and build rapport with customers, increasing the likelihood of bookings. Following the event of the United customer being dragged off the plane, the company implemented a new guideline reading, “United will not ask law enforcement officers to remove customers from flights unless it is a matter of safety and security”.

United Airlines’ timeliness of adjustments and willingness to admit fault in these situations makes overlooking these mistakes much easier. These examples of bloopers within its system are not simply being pushed under the rug, but efficiently addressed in order to avoid any future altercations, showing its commitment to customer satisfaction.

Management Recommendations

Concerning the event in which a customer was dragged off a United Airlines flight and the overall safety of flights, the company must educate its employees at all levels on the revisions to protocol. This should be done through a series of interactive trainings in which employees receive information and are required to actively apply what they have learned in a live, hypothetical scenario. Similar techniques should be used while addressing the death of the dog onboard of a United flight. Flight attendants and other crew members should be informed of past mishaps and be provided with key information and detailed plans of action for future possible situations. Although it is important to make changes in guidelines, it is irrelevant if workers are not held to a high standard and required to follow them.

While constructing lesson plans for these informational sessions, United Airlines must be aware of all of its publics, especially those negatively affected in past events. This includes animal rights activists, people traveling with and without pets, and past and potential customers. Creating specific instruction catered to those directly and indirectly involved will display attentiveness and make customers feel heard. To those directly involved in any of United’s mistakes, appropriate compensation should also be provided promptly. In addition to educating members of the United team, it would be wise to advertise their efforts. Considering how many people were subjected to media covering the company’s mistakes, it is important to expose them to the initiatives being taken to right its wrongs. Television commercials, social media posts, and print media, especially in airports, are valuable mediums while spreading the company’s messages. United Airlines must rebuild trust with customers by continuing to consistently communicate mistakes. From a public relations standpoint, it is extremely important to be proactive in crises, have a plan and release statements before people can jump to conclusions. United’s previous honesty and willingness to improve policy must continue. While managing the negatives, the company should also simultaneously promote positives like its global reach, and adaptability.

While United Airlines does have weak spots which are hard to forget, it also has demonstrated its strengths on multiple occasions. If management continues to be upfront and honest about the weaknesses the company holds, the strengths will begin to shine through and become the focal point of the airline. Our recommendations, if followed, can provide for United Airlines to remain a top dog in the industry – replacing the sour taste in the mouths of the company’s publics with something sweet.

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