United Airlines CEO promises change after high-profile incidents

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The CEO of United Airlines is promising consumers his company will do better following a series of high-profile incidents. (WLS)

It's no secret that as of late, United Airlines has gone from one PR nightmare to another. Much of the blame has been aimed at CEO Oscar Muñoz. Speaking in front of a friendly audience at Chicago's Executive Club Wednesday afternoon, Muñoz was clearly trying to make amends.

"People say, 'Aren't you glad that's over? Can't you wait for that to go away?' That is the furthest thing from our mind," Munoz said. "We want it front and center. We constantly want to be reminded about how things can go wrong so quickly."

It started last year when a doctor was forcibly removed from his seat and dragged down an overbooked aircraft's aisle. The apology, when it came, was deemed too little too late. The company's failed communications strategy becoming a case study in what not to do.

Then last week, there was another PR crisis. A passenger flying from Houston to New York was told to move her dog, which was in its carrier, to an overhead bin where it died in flight. This time, the response came much faster. United this week announced the suspension of its entire Petsafe Cargo Program as the company reviews why more pets die in its care than any other U.S. airline.

"In crisis communications we tell our clients what we tell our children: learn from your mistakes. And in this case, United's CEO has learned from his mistakes, the company has learned from its mistakes," said Lissa Druss, Serafin & Associates.

Addressing the crises, Muñoz blamed a rigid focus on security concerns for much of their troubles and announced a new training initiative to help correct it.

"We put our folks in bad places when we give such definitive, specific, concrete, rigid rules that don't allow them to show a little caring, a little compassion," Muñoz said. "What we're rolling out this year is something we call for our internal thing, 'Safety is first, caring is second.'"

Will that work? Only time will tell. In the meantime, the airline's stock has taken a hit with recent events, even as United's CEO said the company's now on track in terms of revenue.
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