Rivals React to United CEO Storm with Mix of Support, Opportunism

Other airline-industry leaders have come to Munoz's aid, though he's been offered a few words of advice.

One CEO’s crisis-management nightmare is another CEO’s opportunity.

So far, though, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz’s colleagues in the airline industry haven’t stuck the boot in. They have, however, offered some words of advice—and one airline has even released a cheeky ad to capitalize on the immense amount of publicity created by the debacle.

Munoz yesterday released another, much more sincere apology to the paying customer who was violently dragged from an over-booked plane.

“Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard,” Munoz said. “I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.”


At last, Munoz had followed the crisis-management playbook: he accepted there was a problem, took full responsibility and pledged to do what he could to fix the problem. But given it came two days after the incident, and followed two poorly-received releases that hurt United share price, it was not only a bit late but also highly self-serving.

Bob Crandall, a former CEO of American Airlines, said he would have issued the definitive apology immediately. “That’s what Oscar just did and I think he did exactly the right thing,” Crandall told CNBC, while adding: “That’s what he should have said yesterday. He knows that now.”

A former CEO of United Continental, Gordon Bethune, predictably took Munoz’s side, describing the passenger’s refusal to leave the plane as “immature” and noting that airlines had a right to force people off planes.

As previously reported in Chief Executive, companies are wading into dangerous territory if they explicitly criticize a competitors’ products or services—a move that can make them appear negative and nasty. And the airline industry is a tough business, where another big crisis could be just around the corner.

Emirates couldn’t resist, releasing an ad that played on United’s “flying the friendly skies” motto. It can be viewed here.

Emirates made sure to note that Munoz had publicly criticized Middle Eastern airlines in the past. So in this instance, it appears that what went around, has come around.

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