As we speak, thousands of Americans are risking their lives, taking to the air in commercial planes. Most of them aren’t even thinking about it, however, since the risk is known and fairly low.
But a select group of passengers this morning will be an exception to that profile. Just over two-hundred people will board a United flight in Houston, with plans to land in Chicago. The exceptional risk? Their plane will be the first “official” U.S. flight of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner since, well, since you know when.
The “known” and the “probability” of the risks United flight #1 (true !) faces? No one knows.
For probably the first time in history, scientists have “fixed” something WITHOUT KNOWING THE ROOT CAUSE. In this case, the dilithium crystals, er, the lithium-ion batteries on the 787 were essentially encased in their own little “black box,” and, for extra measure, vented to the outside “just in case.”
Following a few test flights, the FAA said the Dreamliner was good to go (even though the NTSB said the tests were inadequate as proof of anything). And so, United #1 is about to launch.
To great fanfare, no doubt?
No TV or print campaign that we know of. No reportage other than a hack piece from the Associated Press – one would think the Houston Chronicle or Chicago Tribune would have had a reporter make a couple of phone calls.
No letters or emails to the great unwashed MileagePlus members. Nothing on United’s transactional home page. One small mention on each of Twitter and Facebook. The latter takes you to “United Hub,” a secondary site that one wonders “how do people know this site exists?” There, we see a 142-word press release, which includes this:
"Our customers responded extremely well when we introduced the 787, and we know they'll welcome it back," said Pete McDonald, United's chief operations officer.
No word on how Pete “knows” that.
Donald Rumsfeld would have loved this one – lots of unknown knowns and unknown unknowns in this instance. Too risky for a little marketing campaign?
We don’t think so. United could have made a much, much bigger deal of today’s launch of flight #1, whose passengers include its own CEO as well as the CEO of Boeing (if you hurry, you can grab one of about 50 empty seats for a cool $576, although we doubt the CEOs are flying economy class !).
Imagine. United spent more than $200 million for the plane that will be today’s flight #1. Yet it didn’t have the guts to toss in another $1 million or so to let people know what it’s doing to try and become #1 again.