Even as the internet kicked up a maelstrom of outrage, investors still thought United Airlines’ decision to forcibly eject a customer from an overbooked flight would have little effect on the company’s profits.
But that changed Tuesday, when shares of United fell as much as 6.3% in pre-market trading, dropping $1.4 billion from the now $21 billion company by market cap. By early trading Tuesday, shares were down 4%.
It didn’t help that apologies from United and its CEO Oscar Munoz were deemed tone deaf and insensitive by many on social media. Or that more video footage surfaced throughout the day Monday showing the passenger bleeding from the head and clinging to a curtain on the aircraft. The incident even prompted an investigation by Department of Transportation.
And rather than blowing over after a night’s rest, the outrage only grew after Munoz sent an email to employees late Monday defending his staff’s action and calling the passenger “disruptive and belligerent.” Soon enough, the anger became global, with some questioning the practice of overbooking flights.
In theory, a boycott against United should be a boon for other airlines as consumers seek other options. But that wasn’t the case Tuesday, as shares of Southwest Airlines, Delta, and JetBlue also dropped roughly 1%, while the S&P 500 shed less than half a percentage point in comparison. The minor stock fluctuation may also be stemming from FCC chief Ajit Pai’s announcement late Monday that he wanted to ban cell phone calls on flights. Shares of American Airlines on the other hand rose nearly 2% after it released a more favorable outlook for the first quarter.
United’s 4% drop Tuesday could also be an overreaction to the sheer volume of negative sentiment and press surrounding the airline, at least according to CFRA’s analyst Jim Corridore.
“We think this situation was handled in a deplorable fashion, but note that United has the right to refuse boarding to any passenger for any reason... We hope United will respond with apologies and procedural changes,” he wrote in a Monday note. “Overall, we think demand for United Airlines flights are unlikely to be affected by this poor customer service incident.”