United Airlines is embroiled in controversy following the posting of a video showing a passenger being dragged off a flight by aviation police, bloodying his face in the process. But despite social media calls for a boycott and an initial stock tumble, the airline seems likely to recover from the scandal.
“The sad fact is there’s just not that many other choices of airlines in the U.S., and I don’t believe people will pay extra to fly on another carrier or fly through another airport and add on hours to their time to avoid United,” Brian Kelly, CEO and founder of travel site The Points Guy, told Fortune.
There are just four major airlines in the United States for consumers to choose from, and Kelly said a boycott of any sort would struggle to gain traction among the airline’s many frequent business travelers. Despite calls from the Wall Street Journal and Gizmodo, no company has announced its intention to shun United since the incident went viral on Monday.
Economy passengers may be more willing to organize a movement, Kelly said, but he expects any resistance to fizzle out before it could have a significant impact on ticket sales — especially when tickets are already affordable.
“The bottom line is U.S. customers want cheap flights,” said Kelly, who apologized online this week for initially defending United in the incident. “Airfares are really cheap, and that’s what [customers] want — they want a no-frills, cheap experience.”
Wall Street seems confident in that consumer demand. Just a day after United’s 4% drop, shares had recovered on Wednesday.
The only place United may have reason for concern, Kelly said, is in China, where social media users hit back at the company for its perceived discrimination after it was initially reported that the passenger was Chinese. It was later revealed that the passenger is reportedly Vietnamese, but there could still be an impact, Kelly said.
“I actually think that fire, if not put out, could potentially do damage because United has a huge Asian network,” he said.