How are things looking for United Airlines this week? “Really, really, really terribly bad,” says travel expert George Hobica, founder of Airfare Watchdog.
After forcibly removing a passenger who refused to give up his seat on an overbooked flight from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday, the airline has faced a firestorm of negative reactions from passengers and the public.
“It’s the worst response to a media relations crisis I have ever seen,” Hobica tells PEOPLE. “I can’t think of one that has resonated so poorly.”
In a post on his blog published on Tuesday, Hobica writes, “What shocks me is that the gate agent or station manager in charge of the flight should have and could have increased the offer [to change his flight], so that some other passenger would have eventually grabbed it. What would it have taken? A free flight on United anywhere in the world in first class? A few thousand dollars? Five? Ten? Ten would have been the best investment United made this year.”
The airline has stood behind its decision to violently drag the passenger, a doctor from Kentucky, down the aisle of an aircraft on one of their United Express regional commuter flights. “When we didn’t get the number of volunteers we needed then we had to follow Department of Transportation procedures and ask that customers, four of them, exit the aircraft,” United spokesperson Charlie Hobart told PEOPLE. But the public isn’t buying it, expressing their outrage on social media.
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“The fact that it’s still trending on Twitter days later just goes to show you the depth of this,” says Hobica
United CEO Oscar Munoz has so far failed to adequately apologize for the incident, stating “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers,” a piece of airline jargon that has received a backlash of its own on Twitter.
What’s worse, Hobica says, is that “His letter to employees really kind of said, ‘I’ve got your back. You did a great job. You’re wonderful.’ Now, he has to apologize not just for the incident, but for the response.”
And things will likely only get worse for the airline in the coming days. United’s stock fell sharply on Tuesday, dropping $1.4 billion, according to Fortune. The DOT has also launched an investigation into the incident, and per Hobica, the airline is “going to be sued by the passenger, most likely.”
Consumers are “not going to choose United today and maybe this week,” says Hobica. “If the fare is the same on American or Delta, you’re going to see people protesting, absolutely. They’re going to have some empty seats.”