Apologies 101: Why Southwest’s statements shone, but United’s sunk

Though one airline’s response to forcibly removing a passenger helped stem backlash, the other’s response further stoked the flames of a PR fire.

Mea culpas often follow PR crises, but not all are created equal.

Southwest Airlines was recently embroiled in a crisis that was uncannily similar to the backlash United Airlines faced in April. However, the PR responses from these organizations were drastically different.

In both instances, passengers were forcibly removed from flights by security officers in full view of other passengers.

MarketWatch reported:

Anila Daulatzai, a 46-year-old college professor from Baltimore, reportedly complained to crew members that she had a life-threatening allergy to dogs and asked for them to be removed. Crew members instead asked her to leave the plane, but she refused, the Los Angeles Times reported. She was forcibly removed from the plane after being unable to produce a proper medical certificate for her condition.

Though the security officers’ treatment of David Dao was more violent than that of Daulatzai, it does not fully explain why consumers’ reaction to United’s crisis was fast and furious, but the reaction to Southwest after its passenger troubles was more tempered (and almost blasé).

What an organization says and does in the first hours of a crisis can make all the difference.

MarketWatch reported Southwest’s apology:

“We are disheartened by the way this situation unfolded and the customer’s removal by local law enforcement officers,” Southwest said. “We publicly offer our apologies to this customer for her experience and we will be contacting her directly to address her concerns.”

Southwest defused its situation. United fumbled and added fuel to the fire.

Fineman PR’s infographic compares the statements made by both airlines below. What else would you add to the assessment, PR pros?


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