A Change in Tactics at United Airlines

In May 2011, United Airlines came under heavy fire for the below ad:


What some of you may have noticed is that this OOH (out of home) site is located at Ground Zero, where the World Trade Centres used to stand.  I do have some sympathy, as you can argue for hours about whether it’s the media owner, the media agency, the marketing team at UA or the PR team who are responsible for not putting these ads up so close to the site that is still a haunting memory for so many people around the world. From this, I hope the media owner has “red flagged” the site on Ground Zero for airlines, similarly to gun adverts near schools – especially those that have suffered from gun fatalities.

Today however (bringing myself back on track), United Airlines have had a PR win.  On January 24th, Kerry Drake received a phone call that his mother, who had suffered with rheumatoid arthritis for many years, was dying.  He got on the first flight he could from San Francisco to Lubbock, Texas as any son would.  The first leg of his journey that took him as far as Houston was delayed by 30 minutes, and visibly distraught the air stewards did their best to comfort the man, and the pilot did his best to make up the time in the air.

What he didn’t know was that behind the scenes, the Pilot had radioed ahead to the pilot of his connecting flight from Houston to Lubbock and requested that he delays the flight to give Mr Drake the chance to board and say goodbye to his mother.  As he ran towards the gate to catch his connecting flight, that he believed he had missed as he was still taxiing on the runway when his flight was due to depart, a flight attendant shouted “Mr Drake? We’ve been expecting you” and ushered him onto the plane without checking his boarding pass.

He (and his luggage) made it to Lubbock, and his mother woke briefly overnight with him at her side, before finally dying at around 4am.  Had the connecting flight not waited, he would not have made it to the hospital in time.

A lovely story that restores faith in airlines and their unchangeable schedules


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