I’m not going to second guess all of the things that could have prevented the forceful removal of a passenger from his seat, for no other reason than he was the lucky winner of a computer program algorithm.
Forget what the ticket contract says. Forget what the policy manual says. Forget the fact that airlines do likely have every right to remove a passenger. None of that is the issue.
The issue is a video showing a person being forcefully pulled out of a seat, getting hurt, and literally being dragged off an airplane, simply because a computer picked his name. That’s it. Those are the only facts that matter to the general public seeing the video. And, before you can start defending your actions or explaining your side, you have to be able to relate to the public. You know, public relations 101.
When your immediate response is to defend or apologize for something that’s not actually the issue, you have screamed from the rooftop that you don’t actually grasp the issue or why the public is upset. You are not relating to the public.
Maybe the CEO really does believe this was justified, or maybe the risk managers carefully crafted what they believe to be a legally accepted response, or maybe they believe their process was followed to the letter and that the security officers are to blame. But none of that matters yet. When your company is the face of the issue, any initial attempt to try to justify it is going to fail.
There were really only 2 options as the first move in this situation:
- Say nothing. Sometimes silence can be golden.
- Say something along the lines of “this incident does not align with our values and we are investigating.”
Most big companies have really big budgets for in-house and outside PR teams. In this case, it appears that those PR teams have forgotten what the “PR” means. Let me give them a hint: until you can relate to the public by looking at the human side of an issue and then offer a sincere statement, don’t even try to issue a defense or justification.