Every year, I chronicle the brand disasters and brand scandals that did the most damage in the recent months. Previous years have drawn from multiple industries but in 2018 it's all about the airlines. Here's the worst of the worst:

1. Bow-Ow (United)

A French bulldog died in April when a United Airlines flight attendant insisted that his owner stow the animal in an overhead bin. The airline tried to position it as a regrettable but unusual mistake. Then the Washington Post pointed out that 75% of all airline animal deaths occur on United Flights. Oof.

2. Deep Doo-Doo (Delta)

Airplanes are not known for their fresh scent but a Delta passenger in October, after smelling something funky, reached under his seat to discover the digested outcome of either an incontinent service animal or a sick old man (depending on the story). According to the Washington Post, rather than have the flight cleaned, they handed HIM some paper towels and a mini-bottle of gin.

3. Whoops, Your Bias is Showing (Delta)

Two years ago, Delta flight attendants got in trouble for assuming a black female passenger was a therapist rather than a physician as she claimed. Apparently the company hasn't learned much, since an almost identical incident happened in November. To make matters worse, the physician Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford actually showed the crew a copy of her medical license, according to the New York Times.

4. Staycation (American)

When a big airline cancels a flight, they typically book the stranded passengers on other flights, even if those flights are on other airlines. In October, however, The Detroit News reported that American Airlines now directs its booking agents to avoid using other airlines unless the passenger is going to a funeral, a wedding or would be forced to stay overnight in a hotel.

5. Race to the Bottom (Ryanair)

You'd think that after a passenger starts screaming racist slurs at another passenger, an airline would 1) intervene and 2) throw the racist off the flight. However, as The Guardian reported in October, bargain-basement Ryanair elected instead to move the victim to another seat and pretend it never happened. Needless to say, some passengers videoed and posted the October incident.

6. Abracadabra (Primera Air)

While one might expect to see a disappearing act during a stage revue, at an airport not so much. But that's what happened when Primera Air announced they were out of money and "poof" all their scheduled flights suddenly disappeared in October. As the New York Times reported, even the gate agents didn't have a clue as to what had just happened.

7. Class Acts (American, Delta, Southwest, United)

Things looked pretty bad for the industry as a whole when Forbes reported that "airlines failed to deliver nearly a third of their customers to their desired destinations at, or even reasonably close to their scheduled arrival times." Then November saw a class action lawsuit result in an agreement for Southwest Airline and American Airlines to pay $15 million and $45 million respectively for alleged price-fixing.

Correction: An earlier version of this column conflated an incident that took place in 2018 with one that happened in 2016. In each case, the offending airline refused to acknowledge that a female passenger was also a physician. It also misidentified two airlines as part of a settlement. Only Southwest and American Airlines paid the settlement, in the case noted.

Published on: Nov 10, 2018
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