United Airlines is in a tough spot—and they did it to themselves. Clearly, the behavior of United representatives and airport security crossed many, many boundaries, but when your brand is wrapped around a positioning of customer service and positive experience (not to mention boasting a tagline of ‘Fly the Friendly Skies’), this incident and everything surrounding it was nothing less than brand blasphemy.
Strong and beloved brands can and do recover from slip-ups. (Do you recall the Tylenol tampering incident several years ago? Or the failed introduction of New Coke?). But the brands in question must respond swiftly, appropriately and genuinely. United did anything but. The lasting impact on their brand value, customer loyalty and reputation is an unknown at this point, but every move United Airlines makes in the foreseeable future better be smart, strategic and focused on bringing back the friendly skies if they stand a chance of a healthy recovery.