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Monday, May 1, 2017

No Rhapsody in Blue at O'Hare

Most of us are familiar with the blue background and white globe logo on United planes. And we easily recognize their choice of a theme song, Rhapsody in Blue. In recent weeks, however, United has been singing the blues with negative publicity over several incidents.

First, the relatively mild issue—in my opinion—of telling two passengers they could not wear leggings on a flight. Those passengers were using employee passes and the dress code for use of those passes specifies no leggings. But the web response would have made you think Kim Jung Un had lost ALL of his marbles.

Next it was the uncooperative passenger who refused to disembark when told the airline needed his seat for United’s personnel to travel. That request did not end well. The man was dragged essentially kicking, screaming, and bleeding off the plane by security personnel. This time, the interweb responded like it was World War III. And for United, it must have felt like it.

This past week another bizarre incident occurred with United. A “much loved” giant rabbit turned up DOA in Chicago after his plane ride. The bunny, named Simon, was a special hare. He was a Continental Giant rabbit and an offspring of Darius, who holds the Guinness World Record for longest rabbit. According to news reports, Simon already measured 3 feet 5 inches long at just ten months old. It was thought that he may have been on track to break his father's record.

It might not come as a surprise then to learn that United was rated lowest in customer satisfaction of any “legacy airline”: in a new annual survey. Painful as that is, the survey was taken BEFORE the three notorious incidents I’ve mentioned. Obviously time for a PR overhaul! Now we know what United plans to do.

When your public relations chips are down, you offer up to $10,000 for a passenger to give up a seat on a flight. That was one of ten policy changes United recently announced. Some of them had been previously shared. You can find all them in the article “United vows to reduce overbooking, will offer up to $10,000 to bumped passengers.”

Worth noting from where I sit, “Starting in August, United will give all employees who interact with customers annual training on handling ‘the most difficult of situations.’”  United said it doesn't currently provide training on handling situations in which customers are denied boarding. You’re kidding.

Hmmm. Why wait until August? I know people who could conduct that course starting tomorrow! United might also start their improvements by looking at the business practices of Jet Blue, Southwest, or Alaska Airlines. Those were the top three finishers in the latest survey.

If you’ll excuse this somewhat altitude related reference, good public relations is not rocket science. Jesus of Nazareth offered up the supreme customer business practice we often refer to as “The Golden Rule.” We should all know this by heart: “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31, ESV)

I’m truly sorry to hear what happened to Simon the Rabbit. Although I would admit that a four foot bunny would scare the bejeebers out of me. And it seems totally ironic that this sad loss happened on the way to…O’Hare.

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Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

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