Does he deserve it? United CEO won top communicator award before fiasco

Does he deserve it? United CEO won top communicator award before fiasco
United CEO Oscar Munoz was criticised for not being 'uncaring' in his statement after passenger David Dao was forcibly removed from a sold-out flight.
PHOTO: Reuters, Youtube

The United Airlines fiasco in handling a passenger on an oversold flight to Kentucky will probably go down in history for all the wrong reasons.

And here's the startling irony that the media and public relations experts were quick to point out: United Continental CEO Oscar Munoz was named 'Communicator of the Year' by PR Week magazine just a few weeks before the incident sparked a raging firestorm around the globe.

Despite being praised as "an excellent leader who understands the value of PR" in the award citation, he was criticised by public relations experts for not making an unreserved apology quickly after the passenger was filmed via a mobile device being forcibly removed from his seat and dragged down the aisle.

Munoz got the Internet even more mad when he tried to explain why the airline had to haul Vietnamese-American David Dao out of flight 3411 at Chicago airport on Sunday (April 9).

In his public statement that many found irresponsible and perfunctory, Munoz "apologised" only for having to "re-accommodate" four passengers to make room for four crew members.

In another letter, which was addressed to his staff and leaked to the media, he was exposed as insincere and uncaring after appearing to blame Dao for being "disruptive and belligerent".

Appointed United bigwig in September 2015, Munoz also said the physical removal was part of "established procedure", despite the passenger sustaining injury and appearing to be traumatised in the process.

Although Munoz conceded that there were lessons to be learned, he told employees that "I emphatically stand behind all of you".

Reprimanding his response as a "major disappointment", Rupert Younger, a PR expert and director of the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation, told KTLA5 News that United should have reacted quickly to limit damage from the video which went viral on social media.

"The apology by the CEO was, at best, lukewarm or, at worst, trying to dismiss the incident," said Younger. "The CEO should make a better, more heartfelt, more meaningful and more personal apology."

 

 

Read: Thousands sign petition in support of passenger forced off flight

The clumsy damage control saw the flip-flopping CEO giving in to the backlash finally by issuing a better apology on Tuesday afternoon (April 11).

Mr Munoz said in the statement: "I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right,"

"I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight," he said, adding that he had ordered a review into policies.

"We are going to fix what's broken so this never happens again."

Passenger brutally dragged off overbooked United Airlines plane

The debacle came hot on the heels of another United blunder when it was given a dressing-down by netizens after two teenagers were denied boarding because they were wearing leggings, against the dress code for employee-benefit travel.

The incidents have thrown up questions as to whether Munoz deserves the top communicator award or to head the company.

Mark Macias, head of Macias PR, a global public-relations firm, was brutally blunt when he suggested that United board 're-accommodate' Munoz in an article on CNBC.

Listing the mistakes that an executive should never make, Macias said Munoz should not have used insensitive corporate language such as "re-accommodate".

Secondly, he said that Munoz should not have called Dao "disruptive and belligerent".

He added that United could have prevented this from happening in the first place. It should offer enough compensation for the inconvenience, a first-class upgrade, or maybe a $1,500 voucher for a future flight, Macias said.

chenj@sph.com.sg

Read also:

United lost $1.1 billion after passenger debacle

Fury in Vietnam over United's treatment of American-Vietnamese passenger

Netizens responding to the Tuesday apology by Oscar Munoz on Twitter.

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