United won't use police to remove overbooked passengers: CEO

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 12, 2017 7:59 AM

By Alana Wise

NEW YORK (Reuters) - United Airlines will no longer use law enforcement officers to remove passengers from overbooked flights after global outrage erupted over a video showing a passenger dragged from one of its planes in Chicago.

"We're not going to put a law enforcement official ... to remove a booked, paid, seated passenger," United Continental Holdings Inc Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz told ABC News on Wednesday morning. "We can't do that."

Munoz said United would be examining its incentive program for volunteers on overbooked flights and that once a passenger is already seated, "your incentive model needs to change."

The Sunday evening incident caused a furor around the world as video recorded by fellow passengers showed airport security officers snatching Dr. David Dao from his seat aboard Louisville, Kentucky-bound United Flight 3411 and dragging him down the aisle and out of the passenger cabin.

Much of the uproar stemmed from Dao's status as a paying passenger who was being removed to make room for additional crew members on the overbooked flight.

On Capitol Hill, powerful Republican and Democratic lawmakers denounced how Dao was treated and called for United to explain the situation.

On Wednesday, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, announced plans for the Customers Not Cargo Act, which would prohibit the forcible removal of passengers already aboard an aircraft "due to overbooking or airline staff seeking to fly as passengers."

Munoz said Sunday's incident resulted from a "system failure" that prevented employees from using "common sense" and that Dao, whose face was bloodied during the altercation with security before takeoff, was not at fault.

An online petition calling for Munoz to step down as CEO had more than 55,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon, but he told ABC that he had no plans to resign over the incident.

Shares of United Continental were barely changed at $70.61 in afternoon 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 for boycotts of the No. 3 U.S. carrier by passenger traffic and an end to the practice of overbooking flights. [L8N1HK0L9]

Delta Air Lines Inc CEO Ed Bastian defended overbooking as "a valid business practice" that does not require additional oversight by the government.

"It's not a question, in my opinion, as to whether you overbook," Bastian said on a Wednesday earnings call. "It's how you manage an overbook situation."

As of Tuesday, Dao was still in a Chicago hospital recovering from his injuries, his lawyer said.

"Currently, (Dao and his family) are focused only on Dr. Dao’s medical care and treatment," Chicago-based lawyer Stephen Golan said in a statement on Tuesday.

Footage from the incident shows Dao, bloodied and disheveled, returning to the cabin and repeating: "Just kill me. Kill me," and "I have to go home."

In the ABC interview, Munoz apologized profusely to Dao, his family, passengers and United customers.

"This can never, will never happen again," he said.

(Reporting by Alana Wise in New York; Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Angela Moon in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)