United needs to make #Bumpgate right for the sake of its China push

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As if United didn’t have enough to deal with here at the home front, now it also has to deal with outrage in China over #Bumpgate.  For the last couple of years United has been betting on expanding service in China to secondary markets such as Chengdu, Hangzhou and Xi’an, on top of service to primary cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.  United has timed flights from these secondary markets to connect business travelers through SFO to cities throughout the United States, Canada and Latin America.

This article from the New York Times highlights how this incident crossed the Pacific much like United’s new B777-300ER.  Here’s an excerpt of the article:

By Tuesday evening, the hashtag “United forcibly removes passenger from plane” was the most popular topic on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, garnering more than 270 million views and more than 150,000 comments. Many Chinese social media users accused United of racism, while others called for a boycott.

The episode was prominently displayed across the Chinese news media on Tuesday. CCTV, the state broadcaster, showed photos of the passenger’s bloodied face above the word, “Savage!” People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, scolded United for failing to condemn the man’s treatment.

The controversy threatened to hurt United’s revenue in China, where the airline began flying in 1986 and has steadily built a loyal customer base. As of last May, United had 96 departures a week to cities in mainland China and Hong Kong.

United may want to speed up their investigation and response.  We know that usually the American consumer has a short memory, but the Chinese consumer may be different.  In my mind United’s response and compensation must be overwhelming to: 1) the passenger, 2) the other passengers who were denied boarding, 3) the remaining passengers in the flight, and 4) somehow all United MileagePlus members.  Let’s see what they can come up with.

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