Review of Bicyclist uses Facebook to bash United over fee

By Hugo Martin, Tribune Newspapers, March 6, 2010 To summarize: Joe Lotus, a Chicago lawyer and bicyclist launched a Facebook page blasting United for charging him $175 one way to ship his bicycle — up from the previous amount of $85. He started a Facebook page on February 10 complaining about the exorbitant fee for shipping his bike.

So far, Joe’s Facebook page has over 5,000 members and United Airlines has its own Facebook page but has fewer than 2,000 members. According to this article, Southwest & JetBlue typically charge $50 each way to ship a bicycle. Ironically, United is also a corporate partner of USA Cycling, the official governing body of bicycle racing in the United States.

In response to the criticism, officials at United officials said they would review their bicycle transporting fee. And according to an airline spokesman Robin Urbanski, who suggests that’s what social media is for — to provide feedback to corporations.

My Additional Feedback

1. United is a corporate partner of USA Cycling and they used to charge $85 one way to ship a bike. Even at the lesser amount, there could have been a backlash; which doesn’t bode well if your company is a corporate sponsor of USA Cycling. I know they are strapped for cash but are they surprised at the bad press when they raised the fee to $175? In some situations, that’s the cost of a flight. How long will this bad publicity remain and at what point will their brand suffer? These are important questions United may want to consider.

2. According to the article, Robin Urbanski, a United airline spokesman, suggests that social media is there to provide feedback on their service & policies. I see a certain amount of validity in what he’s saying but why did this pricing gaffe have to be made public? Would it be advisable for United to rethink their pricing structure through internal channels? So any mistakes or questionable policies or pricing could be dealt internally. Handling things in house could avoid the negative press in most situations.

3. Last summer, United’s brand took a hit when a video was posted on YouTube criticizing United’s luggage handling went viral and was seen 8 million times. Did they not learn their lesson to be more cautious with their public image to avoid possible virtual backlashes as much as possible?

4. It’s easier to gain a lot of members and support when complaining about something outrageous or unacceptable than it is for a corporation trying to start a fan club. According to the article, the affected cyclist has over 5,000 Facebook members in less than one month. Many of whom support him in his opinion that United is charging way too much for shipping a bicycle. United’s fan club page has about 2,000 members –we know the rallying cry of the bicyclist and many can identify with him. Regarding United’s fan page, what do they stand for? Even if we know, and if history repeats itself, that’s subject to change.