The newest United Airlines public relations disaster, which involves the brutally violent ejection of 69-year-old Chinese doctor David Dau from a flight, continues to wreak havoc upon the airline’s reputation. The Chicago Aviation Police Department actually conducted the horrifying removal (and stated that the passenger “fell”), but United’s handling of the “overbooking” situation has drawn plenty of criticism. Jimmy Kimmel provided the late-night mocking while United’s CEO dug his hole by praising employees and apologizing to every passenger on board, it seems, except for Dau.
Few people feel sympathy for United’s place in this situation. Rather, they feel for the doctor, whose own reputation is being dragged through the unfriendly skies, and the Internet is ready to vote with their wallets. A growing general boycott movement (which we’ll talk about below) exists on social media. More specifically, one in China (as Buzzfeed News reports) has filled the Weibo platform with outrage from those who feel the doctor was discriminated against. Comedian Joe Wong also tweeted about the situation while posting a screencap of the doctor’s bloodied face after his forcible removal.
Also on Twitter, this graphic has been absolutely everywhere and suggests that United’s coach section is akin to Fight Club.
Meanwhile, calls for a boycott have grown even more ferocious than recent examples like those faced by Uber and Ivanka Trump. Indeed, the combination of already-existing travel angst and the sight of a literally battered man could signal a lethal PR combination. People are switching their scheduled flights to other airlines, and while there’s some gallows humor here, the fury is real.
Where does the situation go from here, after it’s already grown so volatile? United may hope that the anger will burn itself out, but there are plenty of people who will steer clear next time they fly. At the very least, this boycott could force airlines to reexamine their own policies and do everything possible to avoid a repeat. That’s likely the best we can hope for.