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Why United Airlines’ future might be up in the air

Why United Airlines’ future might be up in the air

Followed the news lately? Then you know the choices businesses make directly impact their reputation in the eyes of the people who matter most--including their potential and existing customers and employees.

But just how much do these choices impact brand reputation and consumer behavior? We wanted to find out. So we surveyed more than 500 adults in the general US population via SurveyMonkey Audience to discover the full impact of United’s recent business blunder.

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In our survey, (see the full results here), we asked crucial questions about consumers’ travel habits, airline brand preferences, and airline news awareness.

When respondents were asked if they’d read or heard about any airline related news recently, 71% said they had, with 31% citing United specifically. Here’s what they said:

consumer opinions airlines

It’s clear people are generally aware that United’s been in the news. But did their recent PR crisis shift people’s opinion on United? Yes. A whopping 59% of respondents said their opinion of United is less favorable than 6 months ago.

favorable consumer opinions airlines

Interestingly, 3% of people said their opinions of United became more favorable, citing good customer service, convenience, and mileage points as their reasoning.

consumer top choice airlines

But opinions don’t always translate into actions. So we asked respondents which brand they’d choose for their next trip.

11% of people still cited United as their top choice. Granted that’s less than their top US competitors, Delta (24%) and American Airlines (18%), but it’s more than twice the loyal following of Virgin Airlines (4%).

But is an 11% brand preference score the norm for United? Or worse than usual? We compared today’s results to the same study we ran 2 years ago to see if there were any noticeable differences--and there definitely were.

Both United and Delta saw significant declines, with the loyal United following practically cutting in half. American Airlines and Virgin Airlines remained flat, while other airlines received higher ranks in customers’ minds.

airline trends consumer opinions

So, things aren’t looking too great for United--but is there hope? Our 2015 study found that ticket price and availability of flights are extremely important to consumers when choosing an airline, with scores of 95% and 92% respectively.

In fact, respondents indicated that a reputable brand name was actually the least important brand attribute to them when choosing who to fly with (44%). Given what actually matters when selecting an airline, if United can stay competitive with cost and availability, they may not see losses as extreme as our data shows.

Our advice to United and other brands suffering a bit of a PR setback: Keep tabs on your brand reputation by surveying your target market early and often. And find out what’s really important to your customers, the general public, and your employees so you can choose actions that’ll really help your brand take off.

About our study: On March 9th, 2015 and May 30th, 2017, we used SurveyMonkey Audience to survey nationally representative samples of 340 and 533 adults, respectively,  aged 18+ in the United States. The samples were age and gender balanced according the 2010 US Census. We excluded any respondents employed by the airline industry.