The CEO of United Airlines apologised again amid a global uproar sparked when a passenger was dragged screaming from his seat on a flight that, it turns out, wasn’t even overbooked.
I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight, and I deeply apologise to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard, CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement. No one should ever be mistreated this way.
United has been under siege since videos of Sunday night’s violent confrontation on the plane at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport went viral, drawing hundreds of millions of views around the world. Social media outrage rained down on the Chicago-based airline.
United spokesman Jonathan Guerin said Tuesday that all 70 seats on United Express Flight 3411 were filled, but the plane was not overbooked as the airline previously reported. Instead, United and regional affiliate Republic Airlines, which operated the flight, selected four passengers to be removed to accommodate crew members needed in Louisville the next day. The passengers were selected based on a combination of criteria spelled out in United’s contract of carriage, including frequent-flier status, fare type, check-in time and connecting flight implications, among others, according to United.
Three passengers went quietly. The fourth, who was literally pulled out of his seat and off the plane, was David Dao, a physician in Elizabethtown, Ky.
Late Tuesday, CNBC reported that a pair of Chicago attorneys, Stephen L. Golan and Thomas A. Demetrio, are representing Dao. A statement from Golan said Dao is undergoing treatment in a Chicago hospital for unspecified injuries.
“The family of Dr. Dao wants the world to know that they are very appreciative of the outpouring of prayers, concern, and support they have received,” Golan said in a statement. “Currently, they are focused only on Dr. Dao’s medical care and treatment” and will not be making any comments to the media.
Munoz issued his first public apology Monday but hours later sent a letter to the airline’s employees lauding the behavior of the flight crew in dealing with a “disruptive and belligerent” passenger. Munoz credited employees with following established procedures on the Louisville-bound flight.
“This situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused, and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help,” the letter says. “While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.”
Munoz conceded, however, that “there are lessons we can learn from this experience,” and he promised an investigation. Chicago aviation officials placed a security officer on leave, saying the incident “was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure.”
UNITED TAKES A HIT
Eric Schiffer, CEO of Reputation Management Consultants, termed United’s handling of the incident “brand suicide.”
“When you go onto a United flight, you shouldn’t have to be concerned there will be blood or you will get slammed in the face,” Schiffer said. “I think you will see an effect on sales from those who are disgusted by the gruesome action. And it’s catastrophic for a brand’s trust.”
United stock had dropped steadily by midafternoon Tuesday, amounting to an estimated $255 million of the airline’s market value. Schiffer said United, aided by robust advertising, will recover.
“But they are definitely going to lose customers and they should,” he said.
The incident came two weeks after United took withering criticism for requiring two girls to change out of leggings before boarding a flight in Denver. United explained that leggings and yoga pants are among banned attire for people flying with employee pass privileges because such fliers are viewed as representing the company.