In April 2017, United Airlines had a passenger removed from one of its airplanes. Video of the bleeding man being dragged off through the aisle went viral the next day. United’s initial response attempted to downplay this offensive act (relying primarily on differentiation and mortification, but not really apologizing for this offensive act). This stance provoked outrage and ridicule. This study applies image repair theory (Benoit, 2015) to the discourse in this case study. United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz, was forced to offer a “do-over,” stressing mortification and corrective action that were actually directed to the offensive act. United finally arrived at the proper response, but it came too late to realize its full potential. This essay argues that corrective action can be an important strategy in crisis communication theory; it also explains that social media have changed the crisis situation (with nearly instant and widespread criticism) and compressed the time in which those accused of wrongdoing can respond.
Benoit, W. L. (2018). Crisis and image repair at united airlines: Fly the unfriendly skies. Journal of International Crisis and Risk Communication Research, 1(1), 11-26. https://doi.org/10.30658/jicrcr.1.1.2