Middle Eastern carriers seized on the social media storm surrounding the forced removal of a passenger from a United Airlines flight to mock one of the arch-critics of their breakneck expansion.
Dubai-based Emirates lampooned United’s motto on its Twitter account, urging passengers to “fly the friendly skies with a real airline”, while Qatar Airways tweeted an image of its own app, which it said “doesn’t support drag and drop”.
United CEO ‘ashamed’ about passenger’s removal
Oscar Munoz says he felt “ashamed” when hearing about the violent removal of a passenger from an overbooked flight and promised the situation will never happen again.
Royal Jordanian Airlines joked that it’s also against dragging in an anti-smoking advertisement, while Turkish Airlines pointed out that it last week added an extra passenger to one of its flights after a baby was born on board.
While most airlines steered clear of commenting on the United debacle, the US giant’s embarrassment over the removal of the man to make way for one of its employees was too good an opportunity to miss for Mid-east operators subject to years of gibes over the part played by state funding in their success story.
The Emirates tweet includes a video mocking United chief executive Oscar Munoz’s suggestion this year that Gulf carriers “aren’t real airlines” by highlighting its Tripadvisor ranking as the world’s best carrier in 2017. The post ends with the punchline: “Fly the friendly skies … this time for real.”
The world’s biggest long-haul airline has taken a swipe at US rivals before, most notably in a 2015 ad campaign that showed Jennifer Aniston being offered peanuts and a hand towel by American-accented flight attendants, before waking to find herself cosseted in the flat-bed seat of an Emirates superjumbo.
Royal Jordanian’s anti-United tweet shows a picture of a no-smoking sign on one of its aircraft along with the message: “We would like to remind you that drags on our flights are strictly prohibited by passengers – and crew.”
Turkish Air re-tweeted a message from Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington commenting: “Instead of involuntarily removing a passenger, Turkish Air assists in involuntarily adding one.” That’s after a girl was born last Friday on the carrier’s flight between Guinea and Burkina Faso.
Qatar Air accompanied its drag-and-drop pun with the blurb: “We’re united in our goal to always accommodate our passengers, even with our app updates.”
United Continental, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines Group have accused Emirates, Etihad Airways PJSC and Qatar of competing unfairly in global markets with the help of more than $US40 billion in illegal government subsidies, something the Gulf carriers deny.
The US operators recently urged US President Donald Trump to curb flying rights for their rivals. Tensions have ratcheted up further with an attempted ban on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries entering America, together with a bar on passengers carrying large electronic devices aboard US-bound flights from airports in the Middle East and North Africa, including the bases of Emirates, Turkish Air, Qatar Air and Royal Jordanian.
United to reimburse passengers
United’s Mr Munoz on Tuesday issued a second apology for Sunday’s incident in Chicago, in which the ejected passenger, David Dao, was left bloodied and dazed, saying that “no one should ever be mistreated this way”, and promising a review of his airline’s procedures to be completed by April 30.
United on Wednesday said it would reimburse all passengers on the flight in an effort to get back in consumers’ good graces.
Reimbursing the passengers on Flight 3411 was “a smart thing to do”, Henry Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group, a travel-industry consulting firm, said.
“They are trying to get some positive PR after their consistent horrendous failures on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday morning,” Mr Harteveldt said. “Will it get the goodwill United wants? It’s doubtful, but it will help.”
The CEO had earlier apologised only for having to re-accommodate customers, labelling Dr Dao, who received hospital treatment, “disruptive” and “belligerent”.