The Friendly Skies

Earlier this month, there was an incident on a United Airlines flight that has now received worldwide attention. A ticketed passenger who was already in his assigned seat was forcibly removed from the plane and was injured in the process. This brings up several critical issues surrounding policy, publicity, and public relations.

Everyone who is in business or works for a business, should be concerned about these types of incidents. Not only was a paying customer injured, but millions of dollars worth of reputation and goodwill were instantly lost.

There was a time when such an incident would have been controlled by corporate officials or the media as they had access to the information pipeline; but today, one fellow passenger with a cell phone changed the dynamic and demonstrated to us all the power of publicity.

All businesses have regrettable occurrences. It is simply a matter of how they handle them that spells the difference between success and failure. A number of years ago, through no fault of their own, Tylenol had a corporate crisis when an unknown individual tampered with some of their product that was already on the shelf. Instead of denying, delaying, or evading the issue, Tylenol got out in front of it and turned a short-term crisis into a long-term, reputation-building opportunity. They pulled all the product from the shelves and replaced it with a new tamper-proof product. While this was obviously expensive, time consuming, and labor intensive, it paid off for Tylenol in the long run. Had they not managed the crisis, the name Tylenol would be a distant memory in a long-forgotten business textbook.

Overbooking seats on airlines is currently a legal and acceptable practice that should probably be reviewed; however, on the flight in question, United Airlines offered passengers an incentive to reticket, but no one accepted the offer. I have no doubt if they had increased the offer by a few hundred dollars, eventually they would have gotten one of the passengers to volunteer to be reticketed on another flight, and the whole matter would have been resolved. Now, United Airlines is facing potential lawsuits, bad publicity, and loss of corporate reputation that represents literally millions of dollars.

In a perfect world, we should treat one another as we would like to be treated because it is the fundamental element of all successful human encounters, but failing that, the Golden Rule simply makes good business sense.

I am certain there were many passengers on that flight and countless more around the world that saw the video who were greatly stressed and have determined to never fly United Airlines again. Many of them may have reached for a Tylenol to ease their tension and ensuing headache.

As you go through your day today, remember the value of a good reputation and how quickly it can be lost.

Today’s the day!
Jim Stovall is the president of Narrative Television Network, as well as a published author of many books including The Ultimate Gift. He is also a columnist and motivational speaker. He may be reached by email at; on Facebook at; or follow Jim on Twitter @StovallAuthor.

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