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How the United Airlines PR debacle could have been avoided
14 Apr 2017 (178 views)

What happened on that day when United Airlines had to forcefully drag a passenger out of the plane?

We can blame it on their SOP (standard operating procedure). The crew did offer an incentive of $80 for a passenger to take the next flight. There were insufficient takers. The crew then adopted the next step of the SOP to random pick a passenger to be removed from the flight. They picked a stubborn 69 year doctor who refused to comply. To make matters worse, he is a non-white, so there is a suspicion of racism.

We can blame the SOP for blinding the crew from the "common sense" approach to this problem. However, many large organizations need SOP to guide their staffs in handling the common situations. What is the lesson that can be drawn from this sad PR debacle?

Let me make a bold claim. This kind of debacle would not have happened if United Airlines had consulted me on writing their SOP. If this statement appear to be boastful and benefiting from hindsight, let me explain.

In writing SOP, I always provided two escape clauses:

a) In case of doubt, call your supervisor. This is called "escalation". The supervisor is allowed a greater discretion, e.g. to raise the offer for volunteers to move change their flight. If $80 is not enough, how about $160 or $320? Of course, the supervisor has to be contactable. We have mobile phone and a duty manager, don't we?

b) The front line staff is empowered to make exceptions, up to a specified limit, and to report the exercise of the empowerment. 

We can never anticipate all the kinds of problems that may arise. It will be unwieldy to write the SOP to handle all of these situations. My standard escape clauses did the trick.

This kind of debacles can be extremely costly. The stock price of United Airlines dropped by several hundred million dollars overnight. The long term damage to their brand can be worse. Many passengers have said that they would boycott United Airlines. United Airlines have agreed to refund the fares paid by ALL passengers on that flight.

There has been calls for the CEO to be sacked. 

Beside United Airlines, many organizations face the risk of these types of unexpected debacles. Their SOPs looked all right, until an unexpected happened. And they will suffer huge losses. They can avoid it by taking my suggestions, or consulting me.

Tan Kin Lian
 


How the United Airlines PR debacle could have been avoided
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What happened on that day when United Airlines had to forcefully drag a passenger out of the plane?

We can blame it on their SOP (standard operating procedure). The crew did offer an incentive of $80 for a passenger to take the next flight. There were insufficient takers. The crew then adopted the next step of the SOP to random pick a passenger to be removed from the flight. They picked a stubborn 69 year doctor who refused to comply. To make matters worse, he is a non-white, so there is a suspicion of racism.

We can blame the SOP for blinding the crew from the "common sense" approach to this problem. However, many large organizations need SOP to guide their staffs in handling the common situations. What is the lesson that can be drawn from this sad PR debacle?

Let me make a bold claim. This kind of debacle would not have happened if United Airlines had consulted me on writing their SOP. If this statement appear to be boastful and benefiting from hindsight, let me explain.

In writing SOP, I always provided two escape clauses:

a) In case of doubt, call your supervisor. This is called "escalation". The supervisor is allowed a greater discretion, e.g. to raise the offer for volunteers to move change their flight. If $80 is not enough, how about $160 or $320? Of course, the supervisor has to be contactable. We have mobile phone and a duty manager, don't we?

b) The front line staff is empowered to make exceptions, up to a specified limit, and to report the exercise of the empowerment. 

We can never anticipate all the kinds of problems that may arise. It will be unwieldy to write the SOP to handle all of these situations. My standard escape clauses did the trick.

This kind of debacles can be extremely costly. The stock price of United Airlines dropped by several hundred million dollars overnight. The long term damage to their brand can be worse. Many passengers have said that they would boycott United Airlines. United Airlines have agreed to refund the fares paid by ALL passengers on that flight.

There has been calls for the CEO to be sacked. 

Beside United Airlines, many organizations face the risk of these types of unexpected debacles. Their SOPs looked all right, until an unexpected happened. And they will suffer huge losses. They can avoid it by taking my suggestions, or consulting me.

Tan Kin Lian