Overbooked flights

United Airlines alters policy on booking flight crew

The move comes after a man was dragged off a flight to make way for a United employee last Sunday.
The move comes after a man was dragged off a flight to make way for a United employee last Sunday. PHOTO: REUTERS

Crew travelling on its aircraft to be booked into seats at least an hour before departure

NEW YORK • United Airlines has said it is changing its policy on booking its own flight crew on to its planes.

The move comes after a man was dragged off a flight to make way for a United employee last Sunday.

Videos showed passenger David Dao, a doctor, being pulled from his seat and dragged down the aisle after refusing to give up his seat on the flight.

Dr Dao suffered concussion, a broken nose and two lost teeth, according to one of his lawyers, Mr Thomas Demetrio, who said his Vietnamese-American client will "probably" sue.

It was initially believed that Dr Dao was bumped off the flight due to overbooking by the airline.

Although United later clarified it was to accommodate additional flight crew, the incident nevertheless cast a spotlight on the unsavoury industry practice.

The airline, owned by United Continental Holdings, said on Friday that it would make sure crew travelling on its aircraft are booked into seats at least 60 minutes before departure.

It said the new policy would ensure that a situation in which a passenger is forcibly removed from a plane does not occur again.

United said the change is an initial step as it reviews policies in order to "deliver the best customer experience".

The carrier's chief executive, Mr Oscar Munoz, initially called Dr Dao "disruptive" and "belligerent" and apologised only for the need to "re-accommodate" him.

But he later struck a more contrite tone in a nationally televised interview.

United's board said on Friday the company had to craft policies to win back customer trust and apologised to Dr Dao and his family.

The airline added that it stands behind Mr Munoz, who has been under fire in the wake of the incident. The CEO has said he has no plans to resign.

Even before this week, Mr Munoz was under pressure from activist investors to improve the airline's performance, including its customer relations.

Competing airlines are taking note of the controversy and making changes of their own.

Delta Air Lines increased the payouts its airport agents can offer passengers on overbooked flights to US$2,000 (S$2,796) from US$800, according to a memo seen by Bloomberg.

While United is modifying its policy when it comes to booking its own crew, it did not say if the policy of overbooking flights will be changed.

The company said it is conducting a full review.

It will announce the results by April 30.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 16, 2017, with the headline 'United Airlines alters policy on booking flight crew'. Print Edition | Subscribe