On statement two days later, apologizing and

On April 9th,
2017, Dr. David Dao boarded United Express Flight 3411 at O’hare International
Airport. This flight was bound for Louisville International Airport, unbeknownst
to Dr. Dao, four airline employees had just arrived on the airbus and required
priority seating. Prior to the confrontation, managers offered travel vouchers to
passengers in compensation for giving up their seats. None accepted the offer,
four passengers were then selected for involuntary removal from the flight.

Three other passengers complied, and Dao was chosen to be fourth. Video of the incident recorded by passengers
went viral on social
media, resulting in outrage over the violent
incident. Dao screamed as officers pulled him from his seat, and his face
apparently hitting an armrest during the struggle. Officers then dragged the
unconscious Dr. Dao by his arms and on his back along the aircraft aisle past
rows of on looking passengers. The incident immediately spread across social
media, politicians quickly expressed
concern and called for an official investigation. U.S. President Donald
Trump criticized United Airlines, calling treatment
of their customer “horrible”. The next morning United CEO Oscar Munoz stated
a justification of the removal of
this unwilling passenger, referring to it as “re-accommodating the
customers”. Munoz proceeded to send an email to United staff, commending
the crew’s actions of following established procedures, and referring to Dr. Dao
as “disruptive” and “belligerent”. The initial statements released by
Munoz and United garnered sharp criticism from its general public. In response
to criticism, Munoz issued an additional statement two days
later, apologizing and promising that this type of incident would never
happen again on United aircraft.  In the following weeks, United officials
and Munoz would scramble to issue statements, and attempt to recover the broken
reputation of their airline. The immense pressure resulting from this incident
was linked to the recording of Dr. Dao’s forced departure, and its spread
across social media.

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            Following the incident, a series of
statements released by United official Oscar Munoz received sharp criticism as
a result of their non-apologetic response and lack of action to address this
issue. An internal letter released by Munoz to employees soon became public,


you will read, this situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the
passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to
contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help.  Our employees followed
established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply
regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I
want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly

Public outrage soon grew,
spreading across social media and leading to a public relations crisis, as
potential customers threatened to boycott. Lawmakers and politicians promptly
demanded an investigation to be launched into the incident and United policy
surrounding it. It was not until Tuesday that united released an additional
statement, finally claiming full responsibility for the episode.


“The truly horrific event that occurred on this
flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger,
disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest
apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what
happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed
and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.”

Later, on
Wednesday morning Mr. Munoz appeared, solemnly, on ABC’s “Good
Morning, America,” and said he felt “shame” when he saw the video of Dr. Dao
being dragged from the flight.

can never — will never — happen again on a United Airlines flight. That’s my
premise and that’s my promise,” he said. Subsequently, Dr. Dao’s lawyer and daughter spoke at a news conference in Chicago, United responded quickly with an apology and a promise to “make this
right.” Their statement repeated the
assertion that Mr. Munoz had reached out to Dr. Dao to apologize, which the
doctor’s daughter said did not happen.  One of the officers who removed, rendered
unconscious, and dragged Dr. Dao off the airbus was placed on administrative
leave soon after the incident. Soon thereafter, an additional two officers were
placed on administrative leave starting April 12. The Chicago Department
of Aviation stated


“The incident on United Flight
3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the
actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the


At this point, United Airlines was
amid a public relations crisis fueled by social media, and impacting their
brand perception along with stock value. A series of illicit actions and ill
contrived statements led United Airlines to their lowest consumer perception in
over a decade.


victim was originally thought to be Chinese American as one of the witnesses stated to The Washington
Post, “He said, more or less, ‘I’m being selected because I’m
Chinese.” At a press conference in Chicago, daughter of Dr. Dao, Crystal Pepper
Dao said he was Vietnamese-Chinese.  The
incident subsequently drew outrage on mainland Chinese and Vietnamese social
media, quickly becoming the number one trending topic on the Chinese
micro-blogging site Weibo, attracting
the attention of more than 480 million users. 
Video footage
from passengers who remained on the aircraft throughout the incident was shared
across social media, and was later picked up by mainstream media agencies. One
video was shared 87,000 times and viewed 6.8 million times in less than twenty-four
hours. This incident had taken place shortly after another controversy in which
United refused boarding to two teenage girls wearing leggings. Through the
actions of multiple passengers recording Dr. Dao’s departure, the application
of social media spread the issue globally, gaining millions of views and attention
from legal authorities. Warren Buffett, a major investor
in airline stocks, commented that United made a “terrible mistake,”
and that public perceptions were influenced by the CEO’s initial reaction. In
addition to widespread discontent, Public relations professionals across the world
condemned the actions of United CEO Oscar Munoz.  PR expert Rupert
Younger, director of the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation,
noted the handling of the situation to be “a major disappointment.”
According to Younger, Munoz should have moved more quickly and been more
genuinely apologetic from the start. As a result of continuous blunders, many
conclude that the handling of this crisis will be studied as a negative case
example of PR crisis management.





            An instance of unprofessionalism and injustice on an airbus in Chicago
quickly became an international incident as a result of social media and its
influence. The statements and sentiments publicized by United airlines in the
days following this incident served to compound the issue into a PR crisis for
the organization. In response to public outcry, the threat of boycott, and
authoritative pressure, United Airlines finally claimed full responsibility for
the event, and assured everyone steps were being taken to asses and act on any
policy based issues. The apparent lack of a PR crisis planning system allowed
for a series of critical mistakes to be made, making it the perfect case study
for improper PR management. According to Dr. Dao’s legal team, and United
officials, an “amicable” settlement was achieved on April 27, the
terms of which were not announced.