United Airlines officials have spent the week demonstrating how spectacularly good they are at being spectacularly bad at their jobs. Remarkably bad. The precise opposite of “very good.” Clownlike.
And not one of those good clowns who shows a sincere passion for his craft, but a very bad, terrible clown – the kind who shows up drunk at a kid’s birthday party and starts bending balloons into dirty shapes.
When your company’s week begins with a viral video showing a paying customer ripped from his seat, bloodied and dragged along the aisle of one of your aircraft, you’d think it couldn’t get worse.
But for United, it did, in large part because the company seemed incapable of grasping the unique awfulness of the situation.
It was as if company leaders dug themselves a nice deep hole and then thought, “Well, perhaps if we keep digging we'll eventually reach the top.”
When passenger David Dao was told he was being bumped off a United Express flight Sunday night to make room for a flight crew that needed to get from Chicago to Louisville, he refused to leave. He said he needed to get home.
After Dao was forcibly removed by security officers with the city’s Aviation Department, video of him being yanked out of his seat went viral. The story should have ended there – quickly.
But United CEO Oscar Munoz issued a lame, unapologetic statement Monday afternoon, followed by another lame, unapologetic letter to employees Monday night, followed – finally – by a statement Tuesday that offered an apology and then an even more sincere but too-little-too-late apology on Wednesday’s “Good Morning America.”
While United’s stock was dropping and people around the world were eviscerating the company on Twitter, Dao was in a Chicago hospital recovering from his injuries and following the advice of a personal injury lawyer who must feel like he just won the lottery.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for this colossal mess-up, but Munoz is the one in charge. Fortunately for him, I have a soft spot in my heart for Chicago-based companies, so I’m going to provide the CEO with the one and only statement that might help him salvage his company’s reputation and quash the understandable outrage.
Mr. Munoz, copy this text, put your name on the bottom and send it out. Trust me, it’s your best shot:
“Wow. I mean, wow. I screwed this up so bad I can’t even believe it.
Everyone’s railing against United Airlines, but I’m the boss, and at the end of the day, this is on me. And holy Moses did I bungle it.
We pulled a dude off a plane! What the hell was that? His mouth got bashed and these security lugs used his limp body to smooth out the carpet in the aisle of the aircraft!
Holy mother of God that was bad. And mean. Honestly, I don’t know what anyone was thinking. I watched the video and even I was mad at United. AND I RUN THE PLACE!!
Offer the guy more money, find another volunteer. Heck, rent the flight crew a limo and drive them to Louisville. Do anything; just don’t use a passenger’s face to test the sturdiness of the jet’s armrests.
Good freakin' grief.
So this thing goes viral and what do I do? I put out a statement saying we had to ‘re-accommodate' some passengers.
Re-accommodate? Where did I get that nonsense from? I don’t even know what that words means. I don’t even think that’s a word, for Pete’s sake!
I just got done mocking those idiots at Pepsi for their wacko Kendall Jenner/Black Lives Matter commercial, and what do I do? Something even stupider.
That made everybody even madder at us, so what does Mr. Big-Shot CEO, Mr. MBA, Mr. Look-at-me-I’m-the-smartest-guy-in-the-room do?
I send a letter to my employees calling the customer we roughed up ‘disruptive and belligerent.’ And I don’t apologize. Because, apparently, I’m a knucklehead.
More trouble follows, stock prices drop and finally – finally! – it dawns on yours truly that an apology might be in order. So I offer one, but if we’re being honest, it still kind of sucked. Too cautious. Too CYA, if you know what I mean.
So here I am. Being 100 percent straight. No more B.S.
I apologize, on behalf of myself and my company and whoever the meatheads were who hauled off one of our customers like a used mattress. We screwed up at every level, and then we screwed up some more and, just to drive home our remarkable incompetence, we screwed up some more after that.
I don’t care who the passenger is or what his background happens to be. He could’ve just been released from prison for beating a family of penguins to death and he still wouldn’t deserve the treatment he received from our airline.
Holy moly, this is a mess. I’m so sorry.
We’re going to give the guy a lot of money. I promise. Hopefully not as much as his lawyer is telling him, but still, it will be a lot. Don’t worry.
Now I’m going to get back to work and make sure we’re an airline that DOESN'T beat the snot out of passengers. And I'll do whatever is necessary to prove United is better that what you’ve seen this week.
Oh, and just so you know, we serve Coke products on our flights, not Pepsi. So at least that’s kind of a good thing. Right?
Sorry, forget that. It’s off-point.
God, I’m so bad at this.”
Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Reach him by email at email@example.com.