United Airline's PR has been a jet-propelled disaster for some time now. News today says that the latest screw-up -- shipping a family's dog to Japan instead of Kansas City -- has been rectified. It only took a $90,000 private flight back home.

Japan, Kansas City -- almost the same, right?

Although, any make-good for Irgo, the family's German shepherd, would seem fraught with potential danger. Early this week, one dog died on a United flight. The airline was also responsible for 18 out of 24 pet deaths last year on U.S.-based carriers. Another 13 were injured.

Expect Irgo to say, "Next time, let's go by train."

And little to no word on what happened to the dog that was sent to Kansas City by accident. Where was it supposed to go? Okinawa?

It's just another massive mistake that United has managed to pull off, getting more negative press coverage that a competitor could dream of happening. Plus, that $90,000 flight you'd expect should come out of the bonus of some executive or another.

If the last few years is any judge, nothing significant will change. United will continue to operate as the company has. In 2016 (the last reported numbers available), CEO Oscar Munoz received total compensation of $18.7 million -- up substantially from the $5.8 million in 2015.

Imagine how much he could get if United looked good in public.

But that's the thing that everyone often overlooks about bad press. It often has less of an impact than you might think. If you remember when Sony's PlayStation Network was breached in 2011, the company took an immediate reputation hit among consumers. But people forgot inside of six months and its reputation was back to normal.

Last fall there was Dave Ratner, owner of Dave's Soda and Pet City chain in New England, who posed for a photo op with Trump on the same day the president indicated the end of subsidies for out-of-pocket costs and deductibles for low- to moderate-income people under the Affordable Care Act. His business took a big hit, with significant drops in sales. But from what I've seen (I'm local to some of the stores), that seems to have blown over.

For United, you'd still think the bad press would have an impact, if for no other reason than it's volume. If there were justice in the business world, the carrier would be hurting. What with a doctor dragged screaming and kicking off a plane, another person in first class threatened with handcuffs if he didn't leave his seat for someone of "higher priority," or the man reportedly stung by a scorpion that fell on him from an overhead bin.

But in the annual airline ranking done by ThePointsGuy site, United dropped from second place only down to fourth. Not a huge hit.

That can be enough, sadly, for executives to assume that their organizations are fine and painful change isn't really necessary. But, still, maybe there is a price to pay when you realize that United is fourth in market share after American, Southwest, and Delta. Perhaps business as usual isn't really good enough.

Published on: Mar 16, 2018
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