By now you’ve undoubtedly heard about the United Airlines situation that occurred on Sunday, April 9, 2017.  In case you missed it let me quickly summarize the situation, United Airlines, like many airlines, oversold a flight.  They, like most airlines, asked for volunteers to give up their seat in exchange for taking a later flight and some sort of financial consideration (likely a credit with United to use later).  No one volunteered, now here is where the situation departs the normal course of events, instead of increasing their financial offer they elected to make 4 passengers give up their seat.  This practice is legal but rarely used.  The more common approach (and more customer friendly approach) is to increase the financial offer until you get volunteers.

After 2 passengers begrudgingly gave up their seats, United approached the third passenger and he refused.  Their answer was to drag him from the plane kicking and screaming…literally!  The passenger was injured in the process and the witnesses, other United customers, were very upset and lobbied on that passenger’s behalf.

Aside from the physical harm, flight delay and humiliation United Airlines caused, I looked at it from a purely business standpoint.  I evaluated this action against the mission statement of United Airlines.  United, like all businesses, exist to make money, I have no issue with that but their mission statement tells us how they have chosen to make their money.  The first line of their customer commitment is, “We are committed to providing a level of service to our customers that makes us a leader in the airline industry.”  I don’t work for United but I’m sure dragging a customer down the aisle who did not pose a threat to himself or other passengers goes against that notion.

But let’s look at it from another standpoint.  That same weekend Delta Airlines paid one family $11,000 to give up their seats on several oversold flights.  $11,000, obviously that puts the customer first and provides great customer service (a part of their mission) but that can’t be fiscally prudent, can it?  Well yes, it actually is!  How you ask, because $11,000 is less than $800,000!!!  Why is $800,000 a significant number?  That’s the amount of value United Airlines stock has lost less than 24 hours after the release tape of the passenger being dragged down the aisle was released.

So let’s review:

  • United didn’t provide, “…a level of service to our customers that makes us a leader…”

  • They lost over $800,000 (that amount doesn’t include the yet to be determined amount they will undoubtedly have to pay in damages to the passenger)

  • They will surely experience a decline in ticket purchases

In short United failed at achieving their financial goals and mission statement success.  All of this could have been avoided if they did one simple thing…align their culture and actions to their mission statement.  In my earlier blog on the importance of mission statements I wrote, Excellent organizations are full of employees who not only know the company’s mission statement, but incorporate it into their daily professional lives.”   United airlines did the work to come up with a comprehensive statement of values.  They added it to their web-site and probably talked about it in all employee meetings but they missed what many organizations miss, they didn’t live it.  They didn’t reward employees for abiding by it.  They didn’t insist that employees do what they said they were going to do.

What’s the lesson here?  How can your company avoid a United Airlines level debacle?  LIVE YOUR MISSION!  Help your employees make the best decision for the long term good or your organization.  Profits will always matter but company reputation drives profits, customer opinion drives profits, public perception drives profits.  In the age of social media, perception is reality and those perceptions are formed at the speed of the internet.

What is your company’s mission statement?  Do you know it and if so do you consider that mission when you are making decisions that affect the business?  More importantly, do your employees know it and consider it when making decisions?  If you answered no to either of those questions then you may be setting yourself up for a similar fate.  Luckily, for you, it’s not too late.  Make sure your culture and decisions support your mission statement.  Make sure your employees consider the long-term effect of their short-term actions.  Make sure you aren’t the next company who is dragging your customers kicking and screaming and losing money every step of the way!


Christy Pruitt-Haynes Consulting works with organizations and individuals to help them on their quest towards professional excellence.  If you’re facing significant change, unprecedented growth or stagnant results Christy Pruitt-Haynes Consulting will help by providing customized tools to solve problems, increase employee engagement, improve leadership capabilities and increase profits. As a Speaker, Trainer and Coach, Christy will provide diversity of thought, enhanced communication, improved leadership and a maximized corporate culture.  CPH Consulting will help grow your business!

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