Monday, United Airlines felt the backlash from the forcible removal of a bloodied passenger from a Chicago-to-Louisville flight in order to fly four employees for an assignment the following day, an incident that went viral around the world.
Tuesday, the other shoe dropped: Wall Street.
The stock of United’s parent company, United Continental Holdings, closed Monday at $71.52 a share, with a market capitalization of $22.5 billion — actually rising about 1 percent on the day despite the avalanche of bad publicity.
Was it possible that Wall Street was actually encouraged by United’s relentless pursuit of shareholder value in trying to maximize the load factor of its airplanes, draggings and all? (United also reported a 3 percent year-over-year increase in March traffic later on Monday, likely a bigger factor in the day’s performance.)
Turns out, once investors apparently realized United’s handling of the situation and its aftermath turned off millions of potential customers around the world, they changed their tune.
A United-related hashtag was the top trending item on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, and plenty of social media users in the world’s most populous country — and an important market for United — called for a boycott of the airline.
United’s stock began Tuesday with a slide, plummeting as much as 4.3 percent at one point — a nearly $1 billion loss in market cap — before recovering later in the day’s trading session.
By mid-afternoon, the stock was down about 3 percent, which translates into a nearly $600 million reduction in the company’s value — or tens of thousands of times the cost of flying the four employees in a Gulfstream 650 private jet from Chicago to Louisville.