Would You Accept My Apology? Sincerely, United Airlines.

By Wan Faranaquiah

“For the sin they do by two and two they must pay for one by one ” – Rudyard Kipling.

Their first sin – Claiming overbook flight when all the passenger are seated and at the same time stating that they need to put 4 of their staff on the plane. They will be viewed as greedy and self centered even though they are allowed to do that legally.

Their second sin – Mishandle the passenger who refused to leave the plane. They will be viewed as inconsiderate, insensitive and have the worst customer service.

For the first apology statement , they just apologize for having to re-accommodate their customer while ignoring the fact that the plane was overbooked and did not apologize on that.

For the second apology statement, they apologize for both.
Would the apology that asked by United Airlines CEO is accepted by the people involved and those people who watched ?

When the issue surfaced, my first thought is how United Airlines would handle the crisis management . They should overcome it not for the sake of their investors, their stocks or the CEO reputation but for the sake their 86, 000 employees.

The CEO must show that he is sincerely sorry, apologize humbly and one thing that cross my mind that he must really show that he is really sorry at the bottom of his heart. Only that way United Airlines could gain the trust of their existing customer and other people back.

I have read a few articles on how other CEO had managed to overcome bigger crisis than the United Airlines is facing. I have selected a few of case study how their CEO succeeded in handling the crisis.

Mary Barra, General Motors

In 2014, Mary Barra was named as the company’s first female CEO. An electrical engineer who had been at GM for 30 years, Barra was more than qualified to take the reins from her predecessor, Daniel F. Akerson. The press gushed about the decision, praising Barra’s leadership style and her initiatives to promote women in engineering.

After Barra reached her two-month mark, however, the news hit that General Motors had put over 1.7 million cars on the road with an ignition switch defect that was responsible for more than a dozen deaths. With a massive recall on her hands, Barra was tasked with managing a PR catastrophe while still saving face.

To weather the crisis, Mary Barra took a risk and chose to address the recalls directly in a filmed statement. In front of millions of viewers, Barra personally apologized, admitting, “Something went very wrong…and terrible things happened.”

The media was impressed by Barra’s bold mea culpa, especially because CEOs have a reputation for keeping their heads down in times of crisis. One PR executive was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “She’s owning it,” while in Bloomberg a CEO quipped, “She showed a human side and that’s what you have to do.”

Leaders don’t always take ownership for disasters, but successful crisis management requires that leaders accept responsibility for their actions. Mary Barra proved her mettle by apologizing early and in a very public manner. Time will tell whether GM’s reputation will make a comeback, but either way it looks like Barra will come out on top.

David Neeleman, JetBlue

JetBlue prides itself on its reputation for outstanding customer service. When the East Coast was slammed with a deadly ice storm in 2007, however, JetBlue was forced to cancel over 1,000 flights as its operations collapsed.

The backlash from the catastrophe was enormous. Because JetBlue has a strict policy of never canceling flights, enraged passengers were stuck in airports for nearly a week. They took to the internet with their outrage and the company was thrown into a chaotic PR storm.

CEO David Neeleman acted swiftly to quash the uproar. Refusing to blame the weather for the disaster, Neeleman wrote a public letter of apology, drafted a customer’s bill of rights and laid out a plan for compensating the affected customers. He appeared on live television, YouTube and other shows to offer a sincere apology on behalf of JetBlue. The fiasco cost the company an estimated $30 million, but JetBlue recovered and is now one of the world’s best-rated airlines.

Peter Bijur, Texaco

Nothing sinks a company more quickly than allegations of racism or homophobia. When a group of African American employees sued Texaco for racial discrimination in 1994, offering as evidence recordings of secret conversations between Texaco executives, it seemed as if the company was poised for a plunge. The Reverend Jesse Jackson was outraged and called for a public boycott of the company.

Luckily for Texaco, CEO Peter Bijur responded strategically to the public outcry. First, he suspended the offending executives before investigations were underway. Second, Bijur admitted embarrassment and apologized in a public appearance. The company launched a comprehensive campaign in which Texaco leaders visited all of its branches to apologize in person. Finally, Bijur implemented new discrimination checks for executives and managers that have prevented the problem from recurring.

Texaco would take a long time to recover from the fiasco, but Bijur’s actions helped steer the company back on track. Most notably, the Reverend Jesse Jackson softened his polemics after seeing Bijur’s response, speeding the company’s recovery.

There are countless examples of leaders who buckled under pressure when faced with a PR disaster. What sets these CEOs apart is their stunning management of situations that could have easily escalated into a full-blown PR storm. Good governance requires that leaders respond swiftly and decisively to a crisis.

“Study the past if you would define the future ” – Confucius.