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Buck Up, United Airlines! You'll Be OK!

By Published on .

Note to United Airlines: As Confucius or Abe Lincoln or maybe Oprah once said, "This too shall pass."

No, seriously. Remember how Delta's computers went haywire in January and it had to ground hundreds of flights for hours? That sounds pretty bad, except for that time last August when a power outage at Delta HQ grounded thousands of flights over several days.

Or remember how back in 2011 JetBlue basically imprisoned more than 100 passengers for seven hours on a plane parked on a tarmac without food, water or working bathrooms and wouldn't let them off until the police intervened? Which also sounds pretty bad, except that time in 2007 when nearly 1,000 passengers across nine different flights were trapped on tarmacs for up to 11 hours by, yep, JetBlue.

If there's one thing we've learned, it's that those who fail to learn corporate-PR-fuck-up history are doomed to repeat it — and that's basically fine, because the media always moves on to the next brand meltdown and the social media hivemind is forever ready to ... reaccommodate.

Here's a ticktock of the past, present and likely future of the latest (but surely not last) airline brand crisis.

Sunday, April 9

At 5:01 p.m., Twitter user Jayse D. Anspach‏ (@JayseDavid) posts a 52-second video with the caption "@United overbook #flight3411 and decided to force random passengers off the plane. Here's how they did it." By that evening as the tweet racks up retweets, news organizations start taking notice and asking Anspach for permission to use the footage (he obliges).

Monday, April 10

Credit: United Airlines

• At 9:27 a.m. United CEO Oscar Munoz somehow makes things worse by issuing a statement via Twitter that begins "This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers ..."

• Jimmy Kimmel devotes his Monday night monologue to a scathing United takedown, poking particular fun at Munoz's euphemism: "Reaccommodate — just like when we reaccommodated El Chapo out of Mexico. That is such sanitized, say-nothing, take-no-responsibility corporate B.S.-speak." Kimmel also runs a parody commercial for the airline starring a flight attendant in brass knuckles who introduces a new United slogan: "Fuck you."

Tuesday, April 11

• United becomes Twitter's favorite chew toy as #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos becomes a trending topic.

• At 12:10 p.m., CEO Munoz offers the world a free mea culpa upgrade. Now he describes what happens as a "truly horrific event" and says "I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard."

• The story goes global: "United Airlines passenger forcibly removed from overbooked flight" (The Guardian). "Video of United Airlines Passenger Creates Furor in China, Too," per The New York Times, which noted in a dispatch from Beijing that "state-run news outlets here described the man as being of Chinese descent. By Wednesday morning [local time], the hashtag 'United forcibly removes passenger from plane' was the most popular topic on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, garnering more than 550 million views and more than 240,000 comments."

Wednesday, April 12

• Commence the apology tour! Munoz goes on "Good Morning America" and says "This will never happen again. We are not going to put a law enforcement official onto a plane to take them off ... to remove a booked, paid, seated passenger. We can't do that."

The story remains a media obsession:

Credit: Time

Thursday, April 13

Credit: TMZ

What could/should happen next?

May 8

Dr. Phil
Dr. Phil Credit: CBS

United CEO Oscar Munoz and the brutalized passenger, Dr. David Dao, appear on Dr. Phil together and, in the final moments of the show, tearfully hug.

Sept. 21

A statue of Dr. David Dao is unveiled at O'Hare in United's hometown of Chicago.

Feb. 15, 2018

The Dao statue at O'Hare is "temporarily" reaccommodated to Midway Airport during a renovation of United's gates.

April 4, 2018

Credit: E! Online via YouTube

American Airlines — or maybe Alaska Airlines or possibly Aer Lingus but definitely not United, which learned its lesson — makes worldwide headlines with an outrageous incident involving airline peanuts, a Kardashian with a peanut allergy, a steward brandishing a strap-on dildo, former White House Spokesman Sean Spicer and Hitler.

Jan. 20, 2021

Oscar Munoz is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Air Force One is replaced by a decommissioned United passenger jet.

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