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United Airlines' Consumer Perception Plunges to Lowest Level in Decade

By Published on .

Boeing 737 on taxiway at IAH
Boeing 737 on taxiway at IAH Credit: Courtesy United

Less than a week after a video surfaced of a passenger being forcibly removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight, the company's consumer perception dropped to its lowest level in at least 10 years, according to YouGov BrandIndex.

The daily brand perception research service has been tracking brands through consumer interviews since June 2007. On April 8, one day before the video went viral, United Airlines had a Buzz (or perception) score of 3, which dipped to -28 by April 12. YouGov BrandIndex's Buzz scores can range from 100 to -100, with negative numbers indicating that survey respondents have heard more negative news about a brand than positive news.

Several weeks ago, United Airlines' brand perception dipped slightly after the company stopped two teenagers from boarding a flight for wearing leggings because they were traveling on company "buddy passes," which requires adherence to a specified dress code. The score at that time went from 0.6 to -4, said Ted Marzilli, CEO of YouGov BrandIndex.

"When brands make repeated missteps, oftentimes the second one has a bigger impact, but there was a policy behind the women not being able to board, so people kind of understood that, whereas this is a lot more visceral," said Mr. Marzilli. "There's that video going around and it's a little shocking to watch and overwhelmingly negative, so it's certainly making a bigger impact."

The data shows a "little tick down in purchase consideration," but Mr. Marzilli doesn't think it will lead to a full-blown boycott because there aren't that many options to fly. Where United may be effected, he said, is when it comes to a consumer choosing between two flights with similar prices and levels of convenience.

While United still hasn't fallen below Delta's consumer perception score of -33 last August, following a computer glitch that caused problems or cancellations for thousands of Delta flights, Mr. Marzilli said "tomorrow is another day," so YouGov BrandIndex will keep an eye on United's Buzz score.

The United Airlines incident may have not personally effected as many people as the Delta situation, he added, but the United video has resonated with viewers because "you can put yourself in that position."

Even with Delta's previous problems, the brand didn't suffer lasting purchase intent damage. Before the power outage last August, 37% of consumers said they'd consider flying Delta. That dropped to 27% four days later, but bounced back up to 39% by Sept. 1.

YouGov BrandIndex tracks the consumer perception of more than 1,500 brands per day across 43 industry categories, interviewing 4,800 people, 18 years and older, each weekday, who are selected from an online group of 1.88 million individuals in the U.S.

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