A public-relations magazine last month awarded Oscar Munoz, the chief executive of United Airlines, with the honor of “communicator of the year.” Yes, that United Airlines.
Since the March award by PR Week, United has become a poster child for how all publicity is not necessarily good publicity.
This week, the airline drew outrage after a graphic video showed airport security dragging a passenger off a United flight. The various videos of the passenger refusing to leave and being dragged off went viral and Munoz’s tepid response hours later, in which he apologized for having to “re-accommodate these customers” made social-media users even angrier and kicked off calls for a boycott of the US airline.
Some joked that United had stolen the crown for worst public relations from Pepsi, whose tone-deaf faux social protest ad backfired earlier this month.
It comes only weeks after United was involved in a dust-up on social media last month when two teenagers traveling on the company dime were denied boarding because they were wearing leggings, which are against the dress code for employee-benefit travel.
Upon announcing the award last month, PR Week showered praise on Munoz, who took the helm of United in September 2015 and suffered a crippling heart attack not long after. He later had a heart replacement. He is “an excellent leader who understands the value of PR,” the magazine said.
It also praised his touch with the common worker and his work to eliminate the “customer service problems” at United:
Critical to its success has been United’s ability to reach new contracts with all union groups, most well ahead of deadlines, helping to curtail customer service problems caused by disgruntled workers that had long plagued the airline. A lot of the credit went to Munoz. He won praise from union bosses for his easy rapport with shop-floor workers, a rarity in any industry.
Following the latest incident, Munoz has chosen to double down on the airline’s response, calling the doctor thrown off the plane “disruptive and belligerent” in an email to employees. Shares in the company are down 3.8% so far today.