CHICAGO: Facing a PR meltdown because of flight cancellations and labor problems, United Airlines needs to reach out to key audiences and put forward a senior executive as the primary company spokesman, according to several crisis communication specialists.
CHICAGO: Facing a PR meltdown because of flight cancellations and
labor problems, United Airlines needs to reach out to key audiences and
put forward a senior executive as the primary company spokesman,
according to several crisis communication specialists.
’I haven’t seen them do anything positive yet,’ said Institute for
Crisis Management president Larry Smith. ’It is important to put a face
on the company. All companies need to have a responsible, credible ’I
can trust this guy’ kind of face.’
Despite massive passenger unrest fueled by regular delays and
cancellations, United’s president and its chairman spoke only sparingly
to the media and other audiences - customers, the pilots’ union,
employees, travel agents and corporate travel departments - during the
last week. The execs only found their way into a single Chicago
newspaper and The Wall Street Journal.
Crisis experts say the company’s top brass need to become more visible -
perhaps by showing up at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, United’s home base,
to talk to passengers and show airline employees that they care.
’Seeing someone that’s very senior always helps,’ said Rubenstein
Associates senior EVP Peter Rosenthal.
United has been canceling flights since April as a result of ongoing
labor disputes with its pilots and mechanics. The company’s problems
came to a head on the weekend of August 12 and 13, as hundreds of
flights were canceled and media coverage intensified. Days later, United
announced the cancellation of 4,000 flights in September and
However, several pros argue that the announcement of those cancellations
could be United’s first step back towards respectability. According to
Caponigro Public Relations SVP Walter Kraft, the move showed that the
company is trying to get a handle on the crisis. ’They’ve done something
up-front and positive,’ he said.
Kraft believes that canceling flights on a day-to-day basis is what
prompted the slew of bad publicity in the first place. ’United has seen
that it isn’t going to win this war if it becomes a day-to-day event,’
In any event, United’s PR problems likely won’t go away until the
company settles the labor dispute with its pilots, something the two
sides hope to do by Labor Day. Until then, Smith thinks that the company
’needs to be positioning themselves as running a good, safe airline with
United did not return repeated calls for comment for this story.