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United Airlines Crisis

Situation: On Sunday, April 9, 2017, security officials dragged paying passenger Dr David Dao off United Express Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky. As a result of his rough treatment, Dr. Dao was hospitalized; and thanks to the multiple smartphone videos that captured the confrontation between Dr. Dao and the security officials, the incident escalated into a global PR disaster for United Airlines.

1) Watch this video:

2) United Airlines Response and Subsequent Handling of the Incident:

The first official response about the incident was a tweet from United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz, was to apologize for having to “re-accommodate customers.”

3) Follow up responses: Next, an internal email from Munoz to United Airlines staff, which was leaked, described the passenger as “disruptive and belligerent” and said that “employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this.”

This lack of empathy in United Airlines response added fuel to the fire and caused another wave of backlash towards the company on social media.

It wasn’t until the following Tuesday that Munoz apologized for the forcible removal of Dr Dao, calling the incident “truly horrific” and offered his “deepest apologies for what happened”. Munoz also said in the statement, “I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right, I promise you we will do better”.

By the time the second official response from the CEO was released, United was continuing to struggle to contain the fallout from the incident.

#NewUnitedAirlinesMottos was trending with users Tweeting memes and slogans such as “not enough seating, prepare for a beating”.

What to do:

Think about the United Airlines case and consider the first two stages of Conflict Management Life Cycle (proactive and strategic). Provide evidence of what United Airlines did or did not do considering these two phases. Where did United Airlines fail? Be specific and use the PR terminology/vocabulary. Using your knowledge of the Conflict Management Life Cycle, how could United Airlines have better handled the situation and limited damage from the video and subsequent tweets. What can they do to regain the public trust? Finally, give 2-3 suggestions for how United might have handled the crisis better based on your knowledge of conflict management.

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