JetBlue and Southwest may have benefited from United’s passenger-dragging fiasco


Public perception of United Airlines took a nosedive after a passenger was dragged from his seat on April 9, and now a survey indicates that JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines may have benefited from the backlash.

In the 30 days after the incident, United Airlines passengers said their likelihood of booking another flight with the Chicago-based carrier dropped to 22% from 47% before April 9, according to YouGov BrandIndex, a London-based customer research company.

In the same month-long period, 30% of JetBlue passengers surveyed said they were more likely to book another flight on JetBlue, up from 24%. For Southwest, the likelihood of its passengers booking another flight increased to 57% from 53%.


YouGov BrandIndex surveys about 4,800 adults a day in the U.S. to track the perception of more than 1,500 major brands.

During the onboard incident, security officers dragged David Dao, 69, from his seat because he refused to give it up; the airline needed the seat on the sold-out flight for an employee. United Airlines has since reached a legal settlement with Dao, who suffered a concussion, a broken nose and two lost teeth.

After the United incident, Southwest announced that it would no longer overbook flights; JetBlue used the occasion to remind fliers that it has never overbooked flights.

Ted Marzilli, chief executive of YouGov Data Products, said the data doesn’t directly confirm that JetBlue and Southwest gained passengers at the expense of United.

Still, he noted that after Volkswagen was caught in a 2015 scandal involving emissions testing, the data showed a drop in preference for Volkswagen cars at the same time that preference data improved for rivals Honda, Toyota and GM.

“It’s an interesting observation that suggests that United customers are potentially considering alternatives,” he said. “Whether they follow through is a different story.”


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