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January 6, 2011
United Still Doesn't Get It
United Airlines hasn't been an exemplar of good public relations (remember "United Breaks Guitars" from 2009?) and still seems skittish on the subject. Too bad, for it lends little confidence in an industry in which confidence is just about everything. The latest incident involves the diversion of a United plane after a pilot apparently spilled coffee on a communications panel or other form of electronic equipment and triggered distress alarms, including one for a hijacking.

That, at any rate, is what CNN is reporting via Transport Canada's website, after the United plane from Chicago to Frankfurt was diverted to Toronto. United's response? "Our review of the communications issue encountered on flight 940 continues, so it's too soon to comment on any particulars that led to the captain's decision to divert," United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said late Tuesday. "But important to note the crew did maintain contact with controllers, and the decision to divert to Toronto was the captain's."

Yawn. How long does it take to ask a captain what happened to cause him to divert his plane? United has to understand that candor counts for everything in airline public relations (as well as anywhere else), but that doesn't seem to sink in in the "friendly skies."  Pilots are allowed to have spills, unfortunate as they may be. Managements need to own up when they occur.  

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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