What NOT To Do!

Last month US Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz was named U.S. Communicator of the year by PRWeek for his ability to understand “the value of communications” and “connect and share” his vision for the airline.

This week he’s been dragged, slammed, yanked out of his chair  and left bloodied…

… sorry that was his paying customer!

Dr. David Dao - a 69 year old resident of Kentucky, USA who was forcibly removed from a United Airlines (UA) plane on Monday, from a seat he had paid for!


Because United had overbooked the plane.

If you haven’t seen the video, chances are you’ve been living under the rock these past few days.

Munoz response to the incident was one can only call really stupid!Monday afternoon he responded with:

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

“Re-accomodate” - you don’t need to have studied the Meta Model to see right through the bullshit and lame attempt to direct attention away from any blame.

That corporate BS talk might have worked in the age before the Internet and video phones but not anymore.

What has any of this got to do with NLP?


As practitioners of NLP, this on-going PR crisis is an excellent time to watch and learn. It’s a case study in the cost of poor communication, story control, crisis management and sloppy thinking rolled in to one.

From the start, the company utterly failed to to correctly frame the issue and calibrate to the likely public re-action.

They failed to get inside the mind of Joe and Jane public. To accurately assess how the public would perceive such a video, of a paying customer who was, due to United’s cock-up forcibly removed and basically assaulted in the process.

They failed to do any kind of Point-of-View (POV) testing on the reality they wanted the rest of the world to hold.

Crisis communication 101.

Beneath the anger expressed from all quarters, the question I was pondering was…

What would make Munoz’s action the right thing for him and UA to do?

Not wrong. But the right and best choice?

(Remember the NLP presuppositions… people make the best choices they can given their map/model of the world.)

Everyone wants to flame them at the moment, and understandably so, it was appalling how they treated their customer and handled the situation.

Yet stop and consider how heavy the self-induced trance would have to be in the boardroom - that apparently no-one at UA, including the CEO could see how wrong this was and what a disaster of PR management they were about to unfold…

Presumably before he made his first statement he and his team felt they were ‘right’ and their language choice and response was appropriate (both to the incident and to whatever communication outcome they had hoped it would serve.)

Boy were they mistaken!

From there things only got worse.

By failing to get outside their own frames-of-reference and understand the bigger frame the incident was going to be filtered from, once the video went viral, they set a monumental balls up in motion!One mistake followed another.

The story went from a plane with a few hundred passengers to local news, to national news, to something that has been reported and reacted to across a large chunk of the world.

And earned them a huge amount of negative publicity, all for something that could of been sorted out on the flight.

After his original response, the CEO proceeded to blame the passenger for being “disruptive and belligerent” in an internal staff memo which was leaked and thereafter $1 Billon was knocked off the company’s share price when the negative news stories hit cruising altitude… ;-)

Now that reality has come crashing down in the form of the public’s reaction and shareholder response, the company’s CEO has  apologised unreservedly for the “horrific incident”.

[Interesting change of language.]

Continue to watch the frames change as they try to manage the optics and regain control in their effort to change the public’s perceptions and disgust.

Thankfully none of us need to spend millions to sharpen our thinking and become a much more skilled communicator, when you learn how framing works.

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I'm Tom.

Everyone has something they’d like to change in their life. I’m here to help you transform the behaviours that get in your way so you can have the life you really want.

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