Opinion Reality Check Who killed Simon Rabbit? By Richard Turen / May 11, 2017 Share 1 -- The idea was that I would let a few weeks pass before taking on some self-imposed, required commentary on the public relations challenges United Airlines has faced in recent weeks. I like to let the antisocial media have at it and then I prefer to discuss issues in the calm perspective of time passed. But then United did the unthinkable: The airline killed Simon the bunny in a holding facility at Chicago O'Hare. Or so it was reported.This capped an incredible news cycle for United that involves the Chinese government; a former Playboy model from Worcestershire, England; and a doctor from Vietnam whom the Chinese think is Chinese. Not only that: Relatives of United employees were bounced from a flight for having the temerity to wear leggings. Let's just say that the PR spokespeople at United can justifiably tell Sean Spicer that he has it easy. (If you don't know who Spicer is, may I suggest that you are missing the best show on television.)But let's begin with the latest PR debacle and work our way back. We begin with the bunny. Not the Playboy one, the one she raised. As numerous British tabloids, including the Sun, reported, Simon, destined to be the world's largest rabbit based on his parentage, was being shipped by a former Playboy Playmate, Annette Edwards, to a new owner in the U.S. It is alleged that United made a slight mistake by putting the almost-4-foot-long rabbit in a "freezer for 16 hours." (This, according to an "airport worker.")The Brits are certain Simon was in "fine fettle" when he left London Heathrow on the Boeing 767. But allow me to return to the Playmate. Edwards, 65, raises a breed of rabbits known as "Continental Giants." Simon, his new owner in the U.S. was promised, would likely grow bigger than his 4-foot-4-inch father, Darius.Edwards is demanding to have an autopsy done back in England. She wants Simon flown home. There is little doubt she is a dedicated rabbit lover. Why else would she endure endless procedures at the Hanley Clinic in London to change her appearance to resemble Jessica Rabbit, a cartoon character in the movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"?Now United is being accused of killing "Jessica's" rabbit. Or, the courts will have to decide, was Simon the rabbit of its new owner, the gentleman from Des Moines, Iowa, who purchased it? This is not a good story for United in the U.K. No one wants to fly with their children, for example, on an airline run by a bunch of bunny killers. But here's the thing: As this is written, no one actually knows what happened to Simon. United, along with the rest of us, is being attacked by fake news. We don't know who killed Simon Rabbit. But millions of "impressions" have been made, and the charge that United froze the animal to death by mistake is accepted as a fact by many. Some reporters have done a little research to point out that United has the second-worst record in the industry when it comes to pet deaths in their care. Only Hawaiian Air is worse.But let's step back a moment. Fortune magazine researched this and found that out of 109,000 animals transported by United in 2016, nine died. That would include death by natural causes, something that does occur when animals are placed in a severely traumatic cargo hold even with the best of intentions. So let's acknowledge that if United flies your pet in the hold, the chances your pet won't be taking another flight are 1 in 12,111. I like those odds. I don't buy into the story of the nameless witness who said that Simon was placed in the same compartment as the frozen peas. Of course, the lead story on YouTube and the world press, bigger than even North Korea, because we get so little colorful video from the Hermit Kingdom, was the dragging of the "Chinese" doctor off the United flight about to take off in Chicago. You all know the heavy price United is paying for that one. I am concerned that both Ben Affleck and Matt Damon might refuse to fly United. One industry contact told me -- and I'm being serious -- she had heard that United was going to remove "friendly" and just say that "We fly the skies."I don't want to rehash the entire Dr. David Dao "forced removal" incident, but let me add just a few observations that were largely missing from the media coverage of this incident. Again, a fair bit of fake news designed to make United the villain at a point when the airline and its stock price were soaring.• If you look at United's stock price in the 12 months ending April 26, you will see a rise of 45%. If you look at financial cycle time, which translates to the average time it takes an airline to turn $1 of investment into $1 collected from a customer, United, by last count, is leading the industry in terms of financial efficiency. So let's not assume this is a poorly managed corporation. Several of the leading financial indicators would show just the opposite.• Still, it is a fact, isn't it, that United's crews are allowed to call in the cops if a seated passenger does not wish to give up his seat? One could argue that the owner of the United Express aircraft is Republic Aviation, based in Indianapolis. One could argue that this wasn't even a United Airlines flight. United Express is a brand name United uses for nine current, individually owned regional airlines. So technically the crew aboard Dao's flight belonged to Republic, not United. It is, however, true that United Express is the name on the plane. So United must assume responsibility.• Why was this doctor forcibly dragged off the aircraft? The stories here were all over the place. In the first two days after the incident, it was said that he had deplaned to accept a coupon offer, then realized there were no imminent substitute flights to Louisville, Ky., he could use and forced his way back on the plane, and that is why he was asked to leave.We now know he was dragged off the plane, in great distress, because United needed to accommodate four crew members who were en route to an assigned flight. Oops! You kick off a paying passenger so you can accommodate some of your employees for free? United, ya lost me at that point in the narrative. And I like you.• Then there is the matter of the police who dragged the good doctor off the plane. Turns out they were airport police. There was a brigade of Chicago police assigned to O'Hare. Why weren't they called to handle the situation? My assumption is that they would have been more professional, more polite and even less likely to put up with a passenger who ignores their commands. Is it possible that Dao got off easy? There has, after all, been a settlement. United wanted to end this, and it is reported that they paid untold millions to make it go away (although no one really knows that, since the settlement agreement was sealed). Perhaps the doctor will purchase a private jet as a way to retaliate. It can say "United Paid" across the fuselage. • The international repercussions of this incident reach far beyond our borders. The Chinese are incensed, and they are also sitting on the second-largest aviation market on Earth. Tens of thousands of posts on Chinese social media accused United of discriminating against the doctor because "he is Chinese." That story is still pervasive.In fact, the doctor is Vietnamese and escaped from Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. He is also, if media reports are to be believed, a rather good poker player. Hopefully, the settlement will enable Dao to enhance his life and that of his family. He will go down in the history of modern commercial aviation as the spark that changed the manner in which overbooked flights are handled. The fix is obvious and easy. Compensation limits must be expanded to a point where "takers" are a mathematical certainty. I feel bad for the PR team at United. What a harrowing couple of weeks it must have been. I might send them some carrot sticks and crackers.