When United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz apologized Tuesday for an incident involving a passenger dragged from a flight Sunday, Jonathan Vaughters thought it came a few days too late.
“The communication policy was a little bit more based on sort of a 20th century strategy as opposed to a 21st century strategy,” Vaughters said.
As United takes steps to repair its image, Vaughters has experience in that area firsthand. He got dragged into Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal as his former teammate on the U.S. Postal Service team. The Colorado native detailed his own experiences with doping in a 2012 op-ed for the New York Times and has since become an advocate for cleaning up the sport as CEO of Slipstream Sports.
“The world is very transparent now. There is no hiding from issues that can be from a number of different causes when you’re a global company like United is,” Vaughters said. “In 2017, the fix for that is to just be honest.”
Once cellphone video went viral showing security officers remove the man from the plane, Vaughters says United made a mistake in its initial statement about the incident.
United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. pic.twitter.com/rF5gNIvVd0— United (@united) April 10, 2017
“United saying the passenger was "re-accommodated" did not track very well with the reality of what the video said. And in that case, basically management of United comes off as dishonest,” Vaughters said.
Backlash over United’s response affected its shares in the stock market Tuesday. Shares dropped 1.1 percent at the closing bell. Earlier in trading, they fell as much as 4.4 percent, which USATODAY researchers estimated briefly erased nearly a billion dollars in market capitalization.
Vaughters thinks United can save its brand if it takes ownership of what happened and develops measurable steps to prevent a similar incident from happening again. He says other companies can learn from United’s mistakes by understanding a situation fully before making a statement, and apologizing immediately if the company is in the wrong.
United has since had to clarify why the passenger was removed from the flight. The airline now says Sunday’s flight from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport wasn’t overbooked as it previously stated. But it needed four passengers to board a different flight to make room for crew members.
On Twitter, Vaughters invited United executives to attend his talk on crisis communications at the University of Denver next month. It remains to be seen if they will take him up on his offer.