If the world needed another lesson in why not to freak out over something they saw on Twitter, we got one last week. After a bystander waiting to board a flight saw some people not being allowed on a United Airlines flight due to their clothing, she tweeted up a firestorm.
It didn’t matter that there was no context, and it didn’t matter that the person who tweeted about the “incident” didn’t have any information … it didn’t even matter that the kids who had to change were, according to other witnesses, not upset by the situation. One person tapped out a rant, and the Usual Suspects blasted a narrative out into cyberspace.
Like it or not, folks, this is the world we live in now. People with no information and no desire to understand control a significant portion of your reputation online. A few years ago, a single bad review could create problems, so we built services to help customers protect their good name. These days, you have to be even more vigilant and proactive.
Dealing with a Public Relations Crisis
That single tweet by the ill-informed bystander reached crisis status for United when a select few big names in entertainment got ahold of the information and shared their opinions about the incident without actually learning anything about it. Some threatened to change their travel plans, and others encouraged a boycott.
As it turned out, though, United didn’t do anything wrong. The people who had to change were flying free, thanks to United’s pass rider program, a program that has a specific dress code because these riders are seen to be representing United. The company has these rules for a reason, and, apparently, pass riders are well aware of this standard. According to the “rest of the story,” these pass riders chose to ignore those rules and were called on it. They willingly changed, and that was that.
If the bystander had bothered to gather that information, it may well have been “that.” But things don’t work that way these days, so United was forced to release the following statement:
“We care about the way we present ourselves to you, our customers, as we believe that is part of the experience on board our flights. One of the benefits of working for an airline is that our employees are able to travel the world. Even better, they can extend this privilege to a select number of what we call “pass riders.” These are relatives or friends who also receive the benefit of free or heavily discounted air travel – on our airline as well as on airlines around the world where we have mutual agreements in place for employees and pass riders.
“When taking advantage of this benefit, all employees and pass riders are considered representatives of United. And like most companies, we have a dress code that we ask employees and pass riders to follow… The passengers this morning were United pass riders and not in compliance with our dress code for company benefit travel. We regularly remind our employees that when they place a family member or friend on a flight for free as a standby passenger, they need to follow our dress code. To our regular customers, your leggings are welcome.”
While there’s no word yet on if this statement had the intended effect, at least they made it clear they’re not against leggings.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.