In a crisis, an apology is your main line of defence, but you must get it right.
The United Airlines fiasco, where a passenger was physically removed from a flight to make way for airline employees, is a textbook example of what NOT to do.
The passenger was literally dragged off a flight he had legitimately booked, just so the airline could make room for a couple of staff on an otherwise full plane.
You can watch the video here. When he refused to give up his seat he was forcibly ejected from the plan, despite being a doctor with patients to see at his destination.
The real surprise was the way United chose to respond. It didn't really apologise for man-handling an innocent passenger - it apologised for over-booking the flight.
And that made the twittersphere incandescent with rage. When that didn't work the CEO stepped in to say it louder.
Here's the thing about genuine apologies. You have to hit the hurt.
The CEO's statement completely fails to address the legitimate outrage. It focuses on United not their passengers and makes no effort to explain that passengers are generally treated with respect. So what should United have done differently?
Hit the hurt: Work out what's outraged the public and address it directly;
Show they get it: Tell me what you are doing for the passenger and what you have learned from this incident to ensure it never happens again;
Walk their values: United has pages of values statements, including this one in their passenger charter which this week's actions have shown are simply untrue. [We will] ... Treat passengers fairly and consistently in the case of overbooking.
Will this be a storm in a twittercup or have long lasting brand damage? Only time will tell, but if United keeps pouring petrol on the issue it won't go away any time soon.