United Airlines says staff will no longer take seats of boarded passengers

Spokesman Maggie Schmerin said United Airlines has issued an updated policy to make sure crews travelling on their aircraft are booked at least 60 minutes prior to departure. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - United Airlines, which is reviewing its policies after the violent removal of a passenger from a flight last week, says it will no longer allow employees to take the place of civilian passengers who have already boarded overbooked flights.

"We issued an updated policy to make sure crews travelling on our aircraft are booked at least 60 minutes prior to departure," spokesman Maggie Schmerin wrote in an e-mail on Sunday (April 16). "This is one of our initial steps in a review of our policies."

Schmerin confirmed the validity of a memo dated April 14, which was published by TMZ, that ordered the new policy. She said the change was meant to ensure that episodes like what happened last week "never happen again."

She also emphasised a previously announced change that law enforcement officials would no longer be asked to remove passengers who do not pose immediate security threats.

United is reviewing the circumstances that led to the forcible removal of Dr David Dao, of Kentucky, by Chicago aviation police officers on April 9. The company said it would share the findings of its review and any proposed reforms by the end of the month.

During the removal, which grew into an embarrassing international episode, Dao had two of his teeth knocked out, suffered a broken nose and a concussion and may require surgery, his lawyer said.

His treatment caused a backlash that lasted for most of the week and spanned continents, as United, its stock price plunging, struggled to come up with a response.

After several days of uproar, the company's chief executive Oscar Munoz apologised on "Good Morning America."

"This can never - will never - happen again on a United Airlines flight," he said. "That's my premise and that's my promise."

But his apology failed to stem the tide, as lawmakers called for an investigation. The episode also set off criticism over the state of the airline industry, in which fees and discomfort seem to rise in equal measure each year.

"The airlines are seemingly forever coming up with new and innovative ways to coddle an increasingly small group, while treating the majority of fliers with greater and greater contempt," author Helaine Olen wrote in an opinion article for The New York Times on Tuesday.

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