I wonder if at some point we’ll be talking about reaccommodategate when discussing complete PR failures. People are having a field day with the #UnitedJourney hash tag. It started as a light-hearted prompt from United Airlines just a few days ago encouraging customers to Tweet their pleasant journeys on United Airlines.
Today, it’s the place for people to express their disgust at a viral video of a passenger being forcefully removed from the airline seat he paid for to make room for members of United’s flight crew to get to his destination because they obviously didn’t plan their overbooking very well.
The CEO’s response reeks of typical language we expect of corporate America these days: no ownership, expressing lack of control, desire for legal cover, and a generally passive voice. You’re a CEO. If you don’t have control over how these situations are handled, who does?
I have a little tip for you: if you plan to start your apology with “I apologize for having to…” just don’t bother. Seriously.
United’s statement from the “CEO” is mostly pronouns, passive voice, and talk of unnamed teams doing a review at some point in the future with no deliverable outcome. It binds no one. It wasn’t “the buck stops here”. Reading that, you’d think there was no possibility the CEO had any control of the policies, procedures, and company culture that contributed to that incident. It’s gutless. I seriously doubt he’d ever allow any of his subordinates to give him such noncommittal nonsense about company problems.
Perhaps we’d feel as though the world is a bit less out of control if the people who supposedly control it take ownership of their work and don’t talk as though some nebulous other is causing even their actions. They are the nebulous other that makes their employees feel a lack of ownership and agency.
I recently had another company completely fail me and the only thing I could do to tell them was to write an email I knew was a complete waste of time and talk to an “agent” who was just there to listen to me bitch and get coffee on her lunch hour afterwards if they paid her enough to buy one. These big companies we’ve allowed to take control of everything only care when they see a dip in a profit graph. Until then, we’re on our own.
At least the last big company that failed me didn’t “reaccommodate” me into a hospital.
Why does “professional” these days always seem to mean without caring, without an ability for people close to a situation to make better decisions, without an ability or desire to satisfy, or just plain policy over humanity? We need to redefine professional.
Obviously nobody in this situation, from the gate agents to the flight crew to the cops and onward felt enough of a sense of agency to throw a wrench in the operation. Blind adherence to policy and compliance has drawn humanity to dark places. It’s tough to blame those involved for not giving up their paycheck-to-paycheck jobs for what is right. Being right doesn’t pay the bills.
But, if the people running things who don’t have to worry about paying their bills won’t even talk directly about their responsibility for what happens, how do things get better? These people justify their salaries with the very fact that they supposedly take ownership and make the big decisions. Well, step up.
This is just as bad as Wells Fargo’s CEO who tried to stay in power talking about how great of a thing he did by firing all the little people he and his executives coerced into illegal action under threat of having to go home and tell their families they didn’t know where the money for food and bills was going to come from because they did the right thing.
We screwed up, I own it, this is exactly how I and by extension we screwed up, and this is exactly what and when I/we plan to do about it would be refreshing for once.
Some studies are coming out that claim putting customer and employee satisfaction over the desire for profit can be quite profitable. It’s a shame so few companies try it.
My writing prompt (for reference if reading after this has blown over):
For looking back from the future, here’s one of many stories about the original incident: