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United CEO Conciliatory in Latest Comment on Passenger Incident

  • VOA News

FILE - United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz is pictured prior to an interview in New York, June 2, 2016.

"No one should ever be treated this way," reads part of a new public statement issued Tuesday by United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, following Sunday's incident when a passenger was bloodied after being dragged off an overbooked United airliner at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

"I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight," the Munoz statement also says.

The incident has gone viral through social media after being captured on other passengers' cell phones.

Munoz added that the company will conduct a review of how the airline handles overbooking situations and how it interacts with airport authorities and law enforcement. He said the company will release the results of its review April 30.

A screen grab shows passenger David Dao being dragged off a United Airlines flight at Chicago O'Hare International Airport in this video filmed by @JayseDavid, April 9, 2017.
A screen grab shows passenger David Dao being dragged off a United Airlines flight at Chicago O'Hare International Airport in this video filmed by @JayseDavid, April 9, 2017.

Munoz released two earlier statements staunchly supporting the crew, saying in a statement late Monday that United attendants "followed established procedures" when the passenger was forcibly removed.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said President Donald Trump has seen what Spicer describes as the "troubling" video recorded on the United Airlines flight. Besides the global social media firestorm, the incident also has stirred up threats of a boycott.

Spicer told reporters at a White House briefing Tuesday the incident was "unfortunate" but does "not necessarily need a federal response," adding there are "plenty" of law enforcement agencies available to conduct an investigation.

Because the Chicago to Louisville flight was overbooked, the crew asked passengers to voluntarily take another flight in exchange for financial compensation. According to media reports, the airline needed to make room for four of its employees.

No one volunteered, so the airline randomly selected four people, one of whom refused to leave - resulting in his forced removal by three men who were identified as Chicago aviation security officers.

Video showing the man, who appeared to be of Chinese descent, being dragged from the plane and later returning with a bloodied face was widely circulated on social media, drawing angry reactions. One passenger, Audra Bridges, who posted video of the incident, said the passenger was very upset when he was chosen and explained he was a physician who needed to get home in order to see patients the next morning. Bridges said the man appeared disoriented when he ran back onto the aircraft moments later.

Crew members eventually ordered everyone off the plane and did not let them return until the injured passenger was removed again on a stretcher.

Bridges said the passengers were "shocked and appalled" at the incident, which prompted threats of a boycott as the busy summer travel season begins.

The online backlash intensified when CEO Munoz used the euphemism "re-accommodate" in a Twitter posting Monday to describe the forcible removal of the passenger. Munoz. However, he also said the airline was reaching out to the passenger "to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation."

In the letter to employees, Munoz said the passenger "raised his voice and refused to comply" when he was initially asked to leave, and became "more disruptive and belligerent" in response to subsequent requests.

Crew members had "no choice" except to call Chicago Aviation Security officers to help remove the passenger, Munoz wrote.

FILE - United Airlines planes are parked at their gates as another plane taxis past them at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, July 8, 2015.
FILE - United Airlines planes are parked at their gates as another plane taxis past them at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, July 8, 2015.

In a statement late Monday, the Chicago Department of Aviation said the incident was "not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officers are obviously not condoned by the department."

The statement added one officer involved has been placed on administrative leave, pending a review of the incident.

Munoz admitted to employees that the airline could learn from the incident but reiterated on his support of his employees' actions. "I emphatically stand behind all of you," he wrote.

Sunday's incident follows another controversial occurrence in late March in which two girls, one estimated to be about 10 years old, were prevented from boarding a flight in Denver because they were wearing leggings, a violation of the airline's dress code under a program for United employees.

The negative publicity may be adversely affecting the value of the airline. United's stock price dropped nearly 4 percent during late morning trading Tuesday in New York, but by the close of the market it had dropped only about 1.1 percent.

For United Airlines, a global carrier that launched nonstop service to China in 1986, and bills itself as offering "more nonstop U.S.-China flights" to more cities in China "than any other airline," comments on China's lively social media were just one more problem Tuesday.

One commentator said: "Reading the news of the United Airlines' violent removal of a passenger reminds me of three nightmarish trips with United Airlines. [It] provides the world's worst service ever, not just one of the worst."

Another commented: "I would like to give the passenger thumbs up. Although lots of American Chinese are discriminated against, they are afraid of speaking out due to [losing] face."

Tourists' remarks

VOA's Mandarin service interviewed some Chinese tourists visiting Washington.

"I feel very angry. I feel this shouldn't have happened in the U.S.," said Xiaotian Liu. "It happened to be an Asian-American. I do not think they had a target."

"I hope [United Airlines] can improve its service after this incident," said Liu. "We will probably choose different airlines next time."

"We happened to fly [United Airlines] on this trip," said Xuhai Lu. "We flew a Chinese airline last time. Chinese airlines provide better service than American ones."

VOA's Mandarin service contributed to this report.

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