While it’s flying less, United should talk more, say pros

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.

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

October.



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,’

he explained.



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

quality service.’



United did not return repeated calls for comment for this story.



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