Negative perceptions of United Airlines' corporate reputation increased 500 percent following the April 9 passenger incident, according to new research from The Harris Poll. Forty-two percent of U.S. consumers said United has a "bad" or "very bad" reputation when surveyed in April, compared to seven percent in late 2016.
"United's six-fold increase in negative corporate reputation sentiment shows us once again how quickly and severely a company's corporate reputation can be damaged," said Carol Gstalder, senior vice president at The Harris Poll, in a written release. "Corporate reputation is your most valuable asset and with the majority of Americans talking about, advocating or using reputation as a lens through which to make purchase decisions, the business value of a company's reputation has never been higher."
The Harris Poll, which surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. consumers April 17-18, 2017, found that 19 percent of consumers believe United Airlines has a "good" or "very good" reputation, compared to 31 percent in late 2016. United's reputation decline comes on the heels of a January 2017 Harris Poll survey, which found that only 16 percent3 of Americans perceive the airline industry to be honest and trustworthy.
Other Companies in Crisis
According to Harris Poll's research, other companies that have experienced recent corporate crises -- Delta, Volkswagen and Wells Fargo -- have had varying corporate reputation results.
While United's negative corporate reputation increased significantly (7% in late 2016 to 42% in April), Delta experienced no negative change following the cancellation of more than 3,000 flights over five days in April. Four percent of consumers said Delta has a "bad" or "very bad" reputation in April, compared to four percent in late 2016. In fact, positive reputation sentiments for Delta increased -- 34 percent of consumers said Delta had a "good" or "very good" reputation in late 2016, compared to 46 percent in April, Harris said.
Harris Poll's analysis also shows that Volkswagen and Wells Fargo are showing signs of recovery. Forty percent of consumers said that Volkswagen has a "good" or "very good" reputation in April, compared to 24 percent in late 2016 and 16 percent in November 2015. Meanwhile, 31 percent of consumers said that Wells Fargo has a "good" or "very good" reputation in April, up from 13 percent in late 2016.
"After pervasive crises that rocked Volkswagen and Wells Fargo, we see signs of reputational recovery," said Gstalder. "Time heals some crisis wounds, so while there is an opportunity for United to execute a remarkable comeback, it largely depends on how they address the operational, corporate cultural and leadership issues moving forward."
The Harris Poll's April corporate reputation results are based on a sample of 2,210 U.S. adults ages 18 and over, surveyed online, in English, between April 17 and April 18, 2017. Each respondent was asked how familiar they were with the companies measured; in order to rate the reputations, only those "very familiar" or "somewhat familiar" with the company were included. Each company received more than 1,300 ratings.
Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated, Harris said.