United will stop using cops to eject overbooked passengers

United Airlines will no longer use law enforcement officers to remove passengers from overbooked flights after videos showing a passenger dragged from one of its planes spark outrage.PHOTO: REUTERS
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz (above) has pledged a "thorough review" of its procedures, including how it handles overbooked passengers, with the results to be released by April 30. On Sunday, Dr David Dao (left) was injured and dragged off an over
Protesters outside the United Airlines terminal at Chicago's O'Hare airport on Tuesday demanding that airlines and security personnel improve their treatment of minority groups.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz (above) has pledged a "thorough review" of its procedures, including how it handles overbooked passengers, with the results to be released by April 30. On Sunday, Dr David Dao (left) was injured and dragged off an over
On Sunday, Dr David Dao was injured and dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight. A video of the incident has gone viral, sparking an uproar over his treatment.PHOTO: REUTERS
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz (above) has pledged a "thorough review" of its procedures, including how it handles overbooked passengers, with the results to be released by April 30. On Sunday, Dr David Dao (left) was injured and dragged off an over
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz (above) has pledged a "thorough review" of its procedures, including how it handles overbooked passengers, with the results to be released by April 30.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Airline's CEO apologises for doctor's forcible removal, says staff did not use common sense

CHICAGO • The chief executive of embattled United Airlines has said the company will not use law enforcement officers to remove overbooked passengers from aircraft, after apologising for the forcible removal of a passenger on Sunday.

In images now seen worldwide, Dr David Dao, 69, was injured and dragged down the aisle when security officers tried to remove him from overbooked Flight 3411 - an airline practice that has now come under increased scrutiny.

Mr Oscar Munoz told ABC News yesterday that the problem resulted from a "system failure" that prevented employees from using "common sense" in the situation.

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

The comments were in stark contrast to the company's initial response, in which it seemed to at least partially blame the passenger, inflaming worldwide outrage.

  • Other PR nightmares

  • When it comes to bad press, it is pretty tough to top the sight of a United Airlines passenger being dragged, bloodied and screaming, from a flight.

    But the fiasco is hardly the first self-inflicted corporate blunder. Here are other examples:

    SINGAPORE'S BREADTALK TAKES BACK CLAIM

    BreadTalk drew flak when a photo of an employee pouring a carton of Yeo's soya bean milk into 350ml bottles circulated online in 2015. The bottles were labelled "freshly prepared". The backlash led BreadTalk to stop sales of the soya milk and apologise for the "misaligned presentation or wrong impressions created".

    It gave away 50,000 pork-floss buns to the public and donated $50,000 to the Community Chest to make amends for the gaffe.

    BACK-SEAT DRIVER

    Uber Technologies chief Travis Kalanick was forced to apologise and pledged to "grow up" after Bloomberg in February published a video of him yelling at a driver in a dispute over the ride-sharing company's fare policy, the latest in a horrendous three-month run of controversies.

    Mr Kalanick has promised to hire a chief operating officer to keep him on course.

    OUT OF TUNE

    United Airlines has had more than its share of customer service problems, including a 2008 incident in which musician Dave Carroll said the airline damaged his guitar. A song and video he produced about the incident, United Breaks Guitars, went viral and has had some 17 million views.

    The company later apologised and sought permission to use the video for training.

    NOT EVERYONE 'LOVES BOOBS'

    A well-meaning campaign by ride-hailing app GrabTaxi in 2015 took a wrong turn when it raised funds for cancer charities by selling T-shirts with the slogan "LOVE BOOBS? So does cancer". The campaign, which ran in several countries, including Singapore, was slammed for being sexist and insensitive, according to the BBC. The company later issued an apology.

    OH RATS

    In 2007, TV news cameras caught images of rodents scurrying around a New York KFC-Taco Bell location. Parent Yum Brands closed the franchised restaurant, labelled it an isolated incident and blamed construction in the basement of the building.

    Still, sales at other stores fell 11 per cent in the first quarter after, and the company replaced its chief marketing officer.

    BLOOMBERG, WASHINGTON POST

    • With additional reporting by Ng Jun Sen

This is the second apology Mr Munoz has made since Tuesday, when he pledged to conduct a "thorough review" of procedures, including "how we handle oversold situations" and how the airline partners the airport authorities and law enforcement.

He vowed to release the review results by April 30.

But the public relations damage was done, with calls for boycotts and the US Department of Transportation promising to review the airline's actions.

Even the White House weighed in.

"When you watch the video, it is troubling to see how that was handled," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.

Asian and Arab American groups rallied on Tuesday night at Chicago's O'Hare airport where the incident took place, insisting airlines and security personnel improve treatment of minority groups.

US congresswoman Jan Scha- kowsky said she was considering legislation to stop the involuntary removal of travellers from airplanes.

"Once a plane is boarded, no one should be asked to leave," she said.

United had accused Dr Dao of trying to "strike law enforcement" officers, according to a document attached to his passenger file, the Daily Mail reported.

An attorney for his family said he is in a Chicago hospital getting treated for his 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," said Chicago attorney Stephen Golan.

In a sign that the American doctor is planning to sue the airline for millions, he has hired two prominent firms of Chicago attorneys, according to the Daily Mail.

Meanwhile, outrage spread to Vietnam yesterday over United's handling of Dr Dao after it emerged that he was Vietnamese by birth, instead of Chinese, which he was widely believed to be when videos of his unceremonious exit first went viral.

"Watching this makes my blood boil, I will never fly United Airlines," commented Facebook user Anh Trang Khuya, although the US carrier has no direct flights to Vietnam.

Middle Eastern carriers also seized on the social media storm to hit back at one of the strongest critics of their breakneck expansion.

On its Twitter account, Dubai- based Emirates mocked United's best-known advertising slogan "Fly the friendly skies", urging passengers to "fly the friendly skies with a real airline".

Royal Jordanian Airlines joined in with a pun on the man being dragged from the plane, saying in a tweet: "We are here to keep you #united Dragging is strictly prohibited."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

RELATED ARTICLES

 

Related Stories: 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2017, with the headline 'United will stop using cops to eject overbooked passengers'. Print Edition | Subscribe