News

United Airlines CEO Responds Again to its Latest Controversy

Faced with a maelstrom of criticism and relentless shade-throwing online, United Airlines is bungling its response to yesterday’s forced removal of a passenger onboard a flight from Chicago to Louisville. Case in point: the airline’s CEO Oscar Munoz. In a letter sent to United employees Monday evening, the executive called the removed passenger “disruptive and belligerent.”

Update: Munoz offered a second statement on the incident on Tuesday, which is posted at the bottom of the article.

Munoz’ letter strikes an unapologetic tone, despite video showing the man being dragged down the plane’s aisle battered, bloodied, and literally screaming as onlookers shrieked in horror. The passenger, identified Tuesday as 69-year-old David Dao, reportedly told Chicago police “just kill me,” after being removed from the aircraft.  

To recap, Sunday's incident occurred when United staff randomly selected four customers on a fully booked flight to disembark so four crew members could have their seats, at first in exchange for $400. Dao refused, so the airline called in Chicago Aviation Security officers to physically remove him, bludgeoning the man’s face amid the scuffle. He later returned to the aircraft, sowing more confusion. 

Here's Dao after he returned to the flight, looking visibly shaken and repeatedly muttering "please kill me."

He later evaded the airport security officers and ran back into the cabin. 

The optics aren’t good to begin with, but then there’s Munoz’ letter to United staff, per The Chicago Tribune:

--
Dear Team,

Like you, I was upset to see and hear about what happened last night aboard United Express Flight 3411 headed from Chicago to Louisville. While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clearer picture of what transpired, I've included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees.

As you will read, 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. Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. 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.

I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.

Oscar

Summary of Flight 3411

  • On Sunday, April 9, after United Express Flight 3411 was fully boarded, United's gate agents were approached by crewmembers that were told they needed to board the flight.
  • We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to $1,000 in compensation) and when we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions.
  • He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft, and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent.
  • Our agents were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight. He repeatedly declined to leave.
  • Chicago Aviation Security Officers were unable to gain his cooperation and physically removed him from the flight as he continued to resist — running back onto the aircraft in defiance of both our crew and security officials.

--

The non-mea culpa hasn’t done the airline any favors in the the public eye, as United faces plummeting stock value and allegations of racism (Dao is of Vietnamese descent). Some have called to boycott the airline entirely, and Jimmy Kimmel Live has gotten in on the charade with a United parody video. 

With little sign of the pressure abating, it isn't hard to imagine the airline's investors -- not to its mention social media team -- breaking a sweat. 

Update 3:31 p.m.: Munoz issued a second statement on Tuesday afternoon, this time heartily apologizing for the incident, which he called a "horrific event," and calling for a "thorough review" of company procedures. Read his full statement below, via USA Today

The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment.  I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard.  No one should ever be mistreated this way.  
I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.    

It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.  

I promise you we will do better.  

Sincerely, 

Oscar

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Sam Blum is a News Staff Writer for Thrillist. He's also a martial arts and music nerd who appreciates a fine sandwich and cute dogs. Find his clips in The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The A.V. Club and Vice. He's on Twitter @Blumnessmonster.