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United Airlines' reputation nosedives

News, 02 May 2017
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NEW YORK: Negative perceptions of United Airlines' corporate reputation increased 500% following the April 9 passenger incident, according to new research.

That the reputation of United Airlines has taken a beating in the wake of last month's forcible removal of a passenger from an overbooked plane will come as no surprise, but the full extent of the work that will be needed to restore its image is now apparent.

The Harris Poll surveyed more than 2,000 US consumers in mid-April and found that 42% of US consumers said United has a "bad" or "very bad" reputation compared to just 7% in late 2016.

"United's six-fold increase in negative corporate reputation sentiment shows us once again how quickly and severely a company's corporate reputation can be damaged," said Carol Gstalder, senior vice president at The Harris Poll.

"Corporate reputation is your most valuable asset," she added, "and with the majority of Americans talking about, advocating or using reputation as a lens through which to make purchase decisions, the business value of a company's reputation has never been higher."

United may take some comfort in the research finding that one in five (19%) still thought it had a "good" or "very good" reputation, although that was sharply down on the late 2016 figure of 31%.

US consumers already had a jaundiced view of the airline industry – a January 2017 Harris Poll survey found that only 16% of Americans perceived it to be honest and trustworthy – but United seems to have acted as a lightning rod.

Delta, for example experienced no dent in its reputation despite cancelling more than 3,000 flights over a five-day period last month.

The Harris Poll reported that just 4% of consumers said Delta had a "bad" or "very bad" reputation in April, the same figure as late 2016.

In fact, positive reputation sentiments increased, with 46% in April saying Delta had a "good" or "very good" reputation, compared to 34% in late 2016.

Gstalder noted that the reputations of Volkswagen and Wells Fargo, two other companies that have been embroiled in controversies, were showing signs of recovery.

"Time heals some crisis wounds," she observed, "so while there is an opportunity for United to execute a remarkable comeback, it largely depends on how they address the operational, corporate cultural and leadership issues moving forward."

Data sourced from The Harris Poll; additional content by WARC staff

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