The United Airlines story is primarily an experience scandal

An overbooked flight, a passenger who does not understand why he’s being asked to “de-plane”, an overzealous bodyguard and a video that went viral. United Airlines stock went down and Twitter was awash with funny memes which is the way we solve problems these days.

But the most interesting of all was the perception this is a PR scandal. Somehow United had failed in its public relations rather than, at its most basic, in the experience it provided to its customers. Indeed, UA reaction after the incident could be construed as a bit of a scandal. Like most major corporations in similar situations, the company was slow, reluctant and attempted to minimise the situation. THAT, that is a PR scandal in reaction to a piece of, well, user generated content :).

The dragging of a customer off an over-booked flight is a tremendous experience scandal.

In my head, the delivery of a service is an end to end journey which needs minute choreography. It’s an instance of experience design where every possible scenario is considered and journeys are built to indicate the best possible way out of that. At some point, UA decided one of these journeys would mean someone agreed to put more people on a plane than there were seats. At some point, the same airline decided that one of these journeys would result in more people than a plane could carry would be allowed to board. And finally, at some point, a journey was designed were getting a customer off an over-booked flight could only be achieved through force. There was NO other system in place to solve that particular experience problem.

That is a scandal. That somehow, United Airlines has designed its service to include brutal force as part of its delivery, true, in a probably less likely scenario. Which, to me, seems to suggest we are not working to achieve the best possible experience, but rather to reduce the experience to its least horrible version that people will not oppose or complain about. It’s the new MO — what’s the worst thing we can make that people will still buy?

That is a scandal.

Digital Strategist. The Internet will save the world (pending verification). Views expressed here are my own/should not be construed as coming from my employer.

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