To paraphrase an old saying, internet-based rage gets halfway around the world before an airline has a chance to realize it screwed up. United Airlines learned that this weekend when its policy for employee travel hit the spotlight. The number of ways this story spiraled out of control is pretty amazing, really.
Of course, it wasn’t seen as an employee issue to start, in part because the company’s Twitter team screwed up badly citing the Contract of Carriage in replying to the initial report. Plenty of other replies could have been fine. Ignoring it, the fate of so many mentions, probably would have been fine, too. Instead, however, a pair of employees tossed fuel on to a smoldering fire and the aftermath was amazing to watch.
United’s initial engagement fueled a quick backlash from travelers convinced that the arbitrary policy of the CoC would lead them to be denied boarding at some point. Never mind that the same policy exists for nearly every airline; United was now squarely in the crosshairs.
Once it became known that the passengers in question were teens (not 10 as initially rumored) and that they were on employees pass tickets it was too late to stop the outrage. The conversation shifted slightly, from passengers not being able to fly in leggings to how the staff travel policy itself is a horrible thing and that no one would know they were pass riders so no one should care. Except that’s not how policies work. Airline employees know the rules and accept them as part of the deal for getting their flight benefits. Fighting them is a recipe for a trouble no airline employee wants. And certainly not something to do at the gate.
So, who to blame?
- A random passerby for taking umbrage with a policy based on, at best, partial understanding of the situation
- The company’s social media team
- The employee for failing to correctly police the outfits of those riding on his pass
- The whole of the internet for deciding that United’s internal policy is rampant sexism that must die at the hands of the mob
And for those convinced that United is pure evil because of this, just remember that most airlines have similar if not more strict policies. Sometimes it is better to not get involved in internal company politics. Even when it is an airline.
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