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Poll: Americans will buy a more expensive flight to avoid United Airlines

The damage control isn’t really working.

Protest At O'Hare Airport's United Terminal Over Company's Forceful Removal Of Passenger Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

United Airlines had a catastrophic past week. After a man was violently dragged off one of its planes to make room for a United crew member who needed his seat, the airline issued a tone-deaf non-apology for the man’s injuries and suffered a massive loss in the stock market. Then, on a different United flight, a man was stung by a scorpion that dropped out of a plane’s overhead bin.

And the American people have taken note.

According to a Morning Consult poll that surveyed a national sample of 1,976 American adults, 79 percent of respondents who had heard about United’s recent news said they would choose a different airline if that airline — the poll specifically used American Airlines as a stand-in — offered an identical flight for the same price.

Further, when presented with a hypothetical scenario in which the competing flight was both more expensive and longer, requiring a layover instead of a direct arrival, 44 percent of the respondents who had heard about United’s recent news would still choose the alternative flight rather than fly United.

But the poll’s most concerning finding if you’re the CEO of United is that among those respondents who hadn’t heard of United’s troubles, only 51 percent would choose an American Airlines flight over an identical United flight, with 49 percent choosing United. The near-exact 50-50 split among respondents who haven’t been following the news about United indicates that the recent incidents have had a massive, polarizing effect on public perception of the airline among anyone who’s been paying attention to the news.

In an effort to save face, United announced last week that it would reimburse all the passengers on the flight where a passenger was beaten, bloodied, and removed from his seat. But it seems like the airline will need to do a lot more than that to have any hope of convincing American consumers that, as its “fly the friendly skies” motto suggests, United’s skies are indeed friendly.

You can see the full results of the poll at Morning Consult.

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