Brand Spotlight: United Airlines Tries to Control Damage to Brand

The video of a passenger being dragged off a United Airlines flight has taken the internet by storm over the past week. The incident has sparked intense criticism toward the brand, along with threats of boycotts and lawsuits. So how much has the incident already impacted perceptions of everyday airline passengers? And how do consumers view the response from United thus far? We asked 1,000 respondents about their flying habits and then tested the CEO’s response to see if it made any impact on their opinions.

united airlines

Airline Customer Satisfaction

In Ask Your Target Market’s latest online survey, just 7% of those who have traveled by plane in the last two years named United as their favorite airline (down from 10% in our airline survey from last year). That only put the brand in front of Spirit, Virgin, Alaska and Frontier. Southwest was named the most popular, with 29% choosing it as their favorite. 18% named Delta as a favorite. 16% prefer American Airlines. And 13% like JetBlue.

Overall, airline passengers rated United most positively in terms of its carry-on luggage policy and the convenient time of flights. But it didn’t rank as highly as other airlines in nearly any other category. And the recent dragging incident could very well have impacted some opinions in a negative way, as 88% of respondents said that they’ve seen the video showing the passenger being dragged off a United flight earlier this month.

United’s competitive position, 2016

Airline Competitive Landscape, 2016


United’s competitive position, 2017 (see lower left of image)

Airline Competitive Landscape, 2017

Future Consumers

Looking forward, just 5% said that they would be certain or practically certain about choosing United the next time they fly. And 9% said it would be very probable. In addition, 36% of airline passengers said there would be no chance at all of them choosing United for their next flight. That’s the highest mark for any airline listed. In addition, a significant amount of customers used words like bad, incident, poor and terrible when describing the United brand.

United CEO Response

After the incident this month, United’s CEO gave an interview where he took responsibility and vowed never to let something similar happen again. Of those who viewed a portion of the interview, 4% said they would be certain or practically certain about choosing United for their next flight. 10% said it would be very probable. And 35% said there would be no chance at all.

Additionally, 47% of those who viewed the interview said they had an at least somewhat positive perception of the CEO’s response to the incident. 35% had a negative perception of his response. And 18% were neutral or had no opinion.

Key Takeaways

A fair amount of consumers appreciated United’s CEO taking responsibility for the recent dragging incident. But it didn’t have much of an impact in terms of customer buying decisions. United wasn’t named as the least popular airline overall. But it did seem to have the largest amount of consumers who would be unwilling to choose it for their next flight. So the incident is clearly at the top of people’s minds still. Perhaps time will make people more open to the idea of flying United again. But for now, many people are still very against the idea of choosing the airline for future flights. And a simple apology and promise doesn’t seem likely to change that anytime soon.

You can view the complete survey results in the widget below and be sure to click “Open Full Report” to take advantage of all the chart and filter options.

Photo Credit: United Airlines – N20904 by InSapphoWeTrust under CC BY-SA 2.0

What do you want to know? If you need some consumer insights on a particular topic, let us know in the comments below and we’ll consider it for an upcoming survey post.

Results were collected on April 18 via AYTM’s online survey panel.

Anne Pilon brings 3 years experience to AYTM as a blogger and journalist. She has a degree in journalism and marketing communications from Columbia College in Chicago and enjoys writing about business, marketing, social media, and art.