United Airlines (UAL) is vowing law enforcement officials won’t again be used in dealing with bumped customers.
“We are not going to put a law enforcement official to take them off,” United CEO Oscar Munoz said in an interview with ABC News. “To remove a booked, paid, seated passenger, we can’t do that.”
Munoz’s pledge comes after widespread outrage at a video that showed a forcible removal of a Chicago passenger on Sunday. A video of the incident showed a man identified as Kentucky physician David Dao removed by law enforcement officials when the airline said it needed his seat for United Airlines staff. Passengers were chosen at random to be bumped from the flight, including Dao and his wife. He was shown screaming as officers pull him from his seat.
The incident was caused by a “system failure,” Munoz said. “We have not provided our frontline individuals with the proper tools, policies, procedures that allow them to use their common sense. This issue could have been solved by that. That’s on me.”
Munoz has come under fire for initially issuing a statement defending the airline’s actions, writing “our agents were left with no choice” but to call security to remove the passenger from United Airlines flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville,. He also described Dao as unruly and said he had “raised his voice.”
By Tuesday, as worldwide anger mounted, Munoz issued another statement that included an apology to Dao and acknowledged the “truly horrific event.”
Asked why it took until Tuesday to apologize to the passenger, Munoz said his “initial words fell short.”
“My first reaction to most issues is to get the facts and circumstances,” he said. “That’s something I’ve learned from. The expression of apology ... is an important part of a conversation like this.”
Shares of United Continental were up 1.1 percent in premarket trading. They had fallen as much as 4.4 percent on Tuesday.
The backlash from the incident resonated around the world, with social media users in the United States, China and Vietnam calling to boycott the No. 3 U.S. carrier by passenger traffic. Video of the violent incident posted on China’s popular Twitter-like microblogging service Weibo drew more than 210 million views by late Tuesday. Many responded with outrage over perceived ethnic bias against the passenger and some called for a boycott of the U.S.-based airline.
An online petition calling for Munoz to step down as CEO had more than 40,000 signatures on Wednesday morning.
United said it is reviewing its policies, and Munoz added that the company needs a new incentive program for bumped passengers who are already seated, as in the case of Dao. In most cases, passengers who are bumped from the flight because of overbooking or other reasons are informed at the gate, before they have boarded the plane.
Munoz added, “The first thing is to apologize to Dr. Dao, his family, the passengers on his flight,” he said. “You saw us at a bad moment, and this will never happen again on a United Airlines flight.”
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