Where United Airlines & Law Enforcement Have Screwed Up

blog communications credibility your stage May 31, 2024

Some people consider communications training an unnecessary or added cost. The reality is that proper training is one of the most valuable investments you can make in yourself, your team and your business.

Yes, the right training not only has a big upside, more importantly it can save you from an even bigger possible downside.

If you need proof, look at how the lack of communications training cost United Airlines. United lost $1.4 Billion in market cap in the hours and days following the incident when just one of their flight crews poorly executed an interaction with the passengers on an overbooked flight. You know the story.

To make matters worse, this challenge further escalated when United’s CEO then issued a poorly worded press release. In his response to the incident, he placed the blame on others and did little to take any responsibility for the unfortunate event.

Personally, I felt the writing was already on the wall with United long ago. I was a loyal and dedicated frequent flyer with United for over a decade until about 7-8 years ago. Even though I regularly flew over 100K miles each year with them and accumulated 850,000 lifetime miles, just short of United’s Million Miler status, I had to make a switch.

I grew tired of the consistently poor communications and bad customer service interactions with United Airlines employees. I’m not talking about the occasional response from a gate agent or flight attendant who was under stress caused by weather or flight delays but the seemingly usual rude, condescending or disrespectful communication.

I watched how poorly they regarded their passengers, especially those who didn’t possess the higher-level status of their frequent flyer program that I enjoyed. I actually became embarrassed to have the Premiere 1K status with them when I realized how they treated those without elite status.

One of the most powerful messages you can send a company is when you vote with your dollars. Think about how much my decision to switch carriers has cost United. For the past 7-8 years I have flown, on average, over 100,000 miles annually on another airline and have only flown United once in that period of time because there was no other choice available to me on that particular trip.

Whether you are a solopreneur or a business with thousands of employees, without proper training in place, you become dependent on a that particular individual’s personality, their competence, and even the mood they happen to be in on that day.

To avoid this ticking time bomb you must invest in your training, and that of your team, to make sure challenges like this don’t happen to you or within your company.

You must be sure that you make effective training available that is unique or customized to your business. Even more importantly, you must also make sure that this training is then conditioned and reinforced for mastery and consistency.

It doesn’t help to have training standards, policies and procedures in place if employees aren’t aware of them or these skills don’t get practiced and put into use.

So often people don’t make an investment in their training because they don’t feel they can predict or measure the impact or ROI.

One of the craziest questions I here from leaders is: “What if I invest the money to train my people and then they leave?”

My question back to them is: “What happens if you don’t invest the money to train your people and they stay?”

The answer is, you end up with a situation like United experienced . . . and it could end up costing you a great deal more, especially in the long run.



There’s another unfortunate and very sad example of this playing out on our city streets across this country with our law enforcement community.

Let me first make this clear: I have a great deal of respect for the men and women of law enforcement who risk their lives to protect us, and our freedom.

Rarely will any of us ever have to face the kind of high stress and emotion that most police officers need to deal with on a regular basis, and it can take its toll on them.

Some have been well trained on how to deal with this stress, while others have not, or at times choose not to use what they have been taught.

I am aware of, and can verify that there are, some very effective communications training that have been proven to work for police officers. The challenge is that not all police departments offer this training, so their personnel often default to what they already know, or what they feel they need to do, in order to protect themselves.

I have to admit that I actually enjoy watching the show “Cops” for one reason. I look at how two different officers handle a very similar situation differently. Some police officers have been well trained to de-escalate an intense situation, where others immediately resort to a more confrontational or physical interaction.

One officer confidently introduces herself and then firmly but calmly diagnoses the situation so that it doesn’t escalate. The other yells loudly, becomes threatening and confrontational and barks out orders before looking to gain insight or understanding.

Just like in sales or marketing when you push your prospects, it is human nature for them to push back. Your goal, just like that of a well trained police officer, should be to align with the other person so you can lead them in the desired direction. The alternative is that the more you push, the harder they push back.

I am not talking about the extreme situations here.
 I completely understand there are times when a law enforcement officer must become more aggressive and confrontational to gain a position of authority or attempt to get the upper hand in a dangerous situation. But that tactic shouldn’t be used unless necessary.

Just like in business, the opportunity is to be properly trained to recognize the difference. On the streets, every effort should be made to first align and communicate with a suspect before resorting to physical restraint or violence.

In business, every communication should work towards building trust, confidence and respect with your prospects and clients, and not just turning up the frequency or intensity of your communications.

Continue to invest in your growth and learning. Eric Hoffer said it best: “In times of change, the learners will inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”


Shift from presenting to engaging and enrolling your audience with these key steps. 

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