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United Airlines Is Latest Company to Deal with Negative News

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Three days after a passenger was dragged off a plane, the head of United Airlines went on television Wednesday to apologize for the incident.

On Sunday, passenger David Dao refused to give up his seat on a flight from Chicago. The airline said it needed the seat and three others for employees. The 69-year-old doctor said he had patients to see the next morning in Louisville, Kentucky.

He was then carried out of his seat by security officers. Passengers said he appeared bloodied, and his lawyer told Reuters News Agency he was still hospitalized in Chicago as of Wednesday afternoon.

Oscar Munoz is United’s CEO, or chief executive officer. In his first response to the incident, Munoz defended the airline’s employees and blamed the man for being “disruptive and belligerent.”

As videos showing Dao being dragged off the plane caused global outrage, on Wednesday, Munoz offered an apology.

'This can never, will never happen again,' Munoz said on ABC television.

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz delivers a speech last year in New York City.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz delivers a speech last year in New York City.

Johnathan Bernstein is head of a crisis management company. He said the apology is “better late than never.”

For companies in crisis, like United, Bernstein said it is important for their leaders to apologize and explain what steps they are taking to make sure the problem does not happen again.

Munoz, who became CEO of United Airlines in 2015, is far from the first corporate leader to face bad news stories.

Paul Argenti is a professor of corporate communications at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He wrote on the school’s website about examples of companies that responded well and not so well to crises.

After one Malaysian Airlines plane disappeared and another was blown up, the airline “tried to appeal to travelers’ sense of adventure, Argenti wrote.

“Want to go somewhere, but don’t know where,” the airline tweeted. Argenti called it a “poorly thought out marketing campaign.”

But he said Starbucks responded well to a New York Times story about a single mom who had difficulty with her work schedules. The day after the story appeared, Starbucks announced it was changing the scheduling system to make it easier for employees to care for families.

Many businesses have faced crisis from bad news stories.

Ride sharing Uber Technologies

In recent months, Uber has faced a series of bad news stories. Among them was a story by a former Uber engineer. She wrote that sexual harassment was common at the company and went unpunished. In another incident, the company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, apologized after Bloomberg News showed a video of him yelling at an Uber driver.

Kalanick responded by saying he needed to “grow up.” And he promised to bring in a chief operating officer to help him run the company.

Phony bank accounts at Wells Fargo

Last year, top officials at Wells Fargo Bank resigned after reports that employees had set up bank accounts for customers without telling them.

The employees said they did this because their pay was based on impossible sales goals. Some said their complaints went unanswered by company supervisors.

The bank responded by running advertisements that promised to “make things right” for both customers and employees.

Maclaren strollers and lost fingers

In 2009, Maclaren, an English company, recalled one million strollers after 12 reports of children’s fingers being cut off.

The company’s CEO, Farzad Rastegar, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that the company was not prepared for the crisis. So many people called their phones and went to the company website that both systems stopped working, he said.

“We thought the PR (public relations) would handle itself and that our money would be better spent supporting the recall,” Rastegar said of the negative news stories. “We were wrong.”

People getting sick after eating at Chipotle restaurants

Chipotle Mexican Grill employee, right, prepares a burrito for a customer in Seattle.
Chipotle Mexican Grill employee, right, prepares a burrito for a customer in Seattle.

In 2015, customers at Chipotle Mexican Grill became ill. Steve Ellis, the restaurant’s founder, went on NBC TV’s Today Show to apologize.

“I’m sorry for the people who got sick. They’ve having a tough time and I feel terrible about that,” Ellis said. Ellis ordered the shutdown of restaurants for top-to-bottom cleaning. But sales still fell.

Now, Chipotle is back with a new “As Real as It Gets” advertising campaign. Comedians appear inside a large burrito, saying Chipotle offers quality and natural food.

Nick Bell is a vice president at Cision, a public relations company.

Bell said people “are willing to forgive if they feel they’ve received a sincere apology and see positive change and action moving forward.”

I'm Ashley Thompson.

And I'm Bruce Alpert.

Bruce Alpert reported on this story for Learning English, based on reports by Reuters News Agency and other sources. Hai Do was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and share your views on our Facebook Page.

Words in This Story

drag - v. to pull someone against the ground who is heavy or does not want to be moved

response - n. something that is said or written as a reply to something

disruptive - adj. to interrupt the normal progress or activity of something

belligerent - adj. angry and aggressive

adventure - n. an exciting or dangerous experience

harassment - n. to annoy or bother someone in a constant or repeated way

complaint - n. a statement that you are unhappy or not satisfied with something

stroller - n. a small carriage with four wheels that a baby or small child can ride in while someone pushes it

comedian - n. a person who performs in front of an audience and makes people laugh by telling jokes or funny stories

burrito - n. Mexican food that consists of a flour tortilla that is rolled or folded around a filling such as meat, beans, and cheese

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