As if flying isn’t enough of a hassle, United Airlines has made every passenger in every flight around the world a little more uncomfortable in their seats until the plane is in the air.

Unless you’ve been hibernating from all media feeds, you’ve likely seen the video of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight. It’s almost frightening to watch, as the passenger is being yanked out of his chair. Here’s a very simplified recap of what happened:

  • United needed to make room on a full plane for some of its employees.
  • Not enough of the passengers agreed to take United’s offers to give up their seats to accommodate the United employees.
  • United “randomly” (they applied a set of internal rules, I think) selected a passenger to remove from the flight.
  • The selected passenger, who had paid for his flight and was sitting on the plane, did not want to give up his seat.
  • Security agents yanked the passenger out of his seat and violently dragged him out of the plane.
  • United CEO Oscar Muñoz issues statement describing the incident as “re-accommodating” passengers and seeming to provide some justification for the incident.

My take: There’s no excuse for this. None. There’s no grey zone, no “maybe’s,” no alternative interpretations. Even if United had the “legal right” to force this passenger from the plane, it was still wrong. If you can’t entice a passenger to get off the plane to make room for one of your employees, then you need to add more to your offer, or you “re-accommodate” your employees.

If customers can’t trust a company to deliver the products or services that they purchase, then the company’s brand has no value. This is the minimum requirement for any brand.

Here’s some of my advice for Mr. Muñoz:

  • Adjust the way you react to situations so that your first reaction to any situation is to show empathy and compassion for your customers.
  • Make a commitment to customers, and make it clear to everyone in your organization, that paid passengers who don’t want to give up their seats will never be forced to give up their seats.
  • Make it clear to customers, employees, investors, analysts, and anyone who cares to listen that this is unacceptable behavior and that you are taking personal accountability for this issue.
  • Acknowledge that you have a systemic problem… with your customers and employees. Would this ever happen at Southwest Airlines? United Airlines ranked 224th out of 331 companies in the 2017 Temkin Experience Ratings and its rating is likely dropping by the minute.
  • Fix your problems… United needs to make improvements across what we call the Four CX Core Competencies: Purposeful Leadership, Compelling Brand Values, Employee Engagement, and Customer Connectedness.

The bottom line: United and Mr.Muñoz need to take decisive action.

This blog post was originally published by Temkin Group prior to its acquisition by Qualtrics in October 2018.