What bothered me most about the United Airlines crisis

By now, we’re all kinda United’ed out, aren’t we?

My Facebook feed was full of people still talking about it last week.

My LinkedIn feed is STILL full of people opining about the incident.

And, most (if not all) of this commentary has been highly critical of United.


And that’s what’s bothered me most about this whole fiasco: Our industry’s penchant for analyzing these crisis incidents, playing Monday Morning Quarterback and being highly critical of the company in question’s PR strategy.

Because really, we should know better. Right?

How could we possibly sit here, analyze United’s actions and have any idea what’s going on behind closed doors?

We don’t know the political pressures at play internally. Maybe the United CEO was hell-bent on coming out with that initial statement backing his employees. Maybe the PR team got completely overruled. Wouldn’t be the first time.

That whole “over-accomodated” language–you don’t think that was driven COMPLETELY by legal? We’ll never know, but that would be my guess having worked with legal teams in the past. Again, PR team: Overruled.

We don’t know how many cooks are in the proverbial kitchen at United. Sometimes different executives not at all connected to PR get involved in the decision making for various reasons. Maybe one of those people had more input than he/she should have had. Again, PR team: Overruled.

Point is: We weren’t in those meetings. We are not United employees. We’re not privy to the details and strategy. So, it’s a little hard to analyze and say “here’s what I would have done” when that’s most likely not realistic at all considering all the other players involved, the politics, and the climate at United.

Ideally, yeah, I’m sure United and its PR team would have wanted to do a lot of things differently. But, so much of that is out of PR’s control. And, we all know that, right? Many of us have worked with and for big companies. We KNOW the politics involved–and how strong they can figure in. We KNOW the legal team has a strong seat at the table and often overrules PR (for better or worse). And we KNOW there are strong personalities within most organizations that drive the agenda.

We know all that, yet we still comment as if we know better.

I would have thought we were smarter by now.

Apparently, I was wrong.

Apparently, we’ll go on critiquing companies as if we know better.

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3 comments on “What bothered me most about the United Airlines crisis

  1. Art Silverman says:

    Your concern about what “actually” happened, and your desire to understand the “real” forces at work, obviously show that you’re ill-suited in our current age of instant mindless outrage. I often feel that way myself, brother.

  2. Art Silverman says:

    Oops, I meant Arik, but legal made me change it.

  3. Audrey says:

    I agree that many people go on and share news, whether fake or real, without doing their research. People are so fast to put their opinion out there, but never sit and think about what is happening behind closed doors. But, if people were to do some background checking into the story and quit automatically posting their crazy opinions, the world would be pretty boring. Wouldn’t it?