United Airlines to link exec bonuses to customer service

It also scraps plan to make CEO chairman after passenger fracas

WASHINGTON • United Airlines has cancelled chief executive officer Oscar Munoz's expected 2018 elevation to chairman and tied compensation more closely to customer service after a passenger's forcible removal from a flight sparked a public relations disaster.

Last Friday's announcement by United Continental Holdings in a regulatory filing came on the same day that American Airlines suspended an employee after a video showed an altercation on one of its planes involving crew, several passengers and a crying woman carrying a young child.

An American Airlines employee violently took a stroller from the woman, hitting her with it and just missing her child, Facebook user Surain Adyanthaya said in a post accompanying the video he put on the site on Friday.

American Airlines was investigating Friday's incident, which happened on Flight 591 from San Francisco to Dallas before the plane took off, Ms Leslie Scott, an airline spokesman, said. The incident started over a dispute as to whether the woman could bring her stroller on the flight.

Subsequently, a male passenger confronted the male flight attendant, with both parties challenging each other to start a fight before backing down.

"We are deeply sorry for the pain we have caused this passenger and her family and to any other customers affected by the incident," the airline said in a statement.

The woman and her family were being upgraded to first class for the remainder of their international trip, it said.

In its regulatory filing, United Continental Holdings said maintaining an independent chairman "is a means to ensure that Mr Munoz is able to more exclusively focus on his role as chief executive officer".

The carrier also said it would link executive bonuses in part to "demonstrable progress towards improvements in the customer experience".

The company has named Mr Robert Milton as chairman, and three of its incumbent directors have decided not to stand for re-election.

The airline adopted the changes less than two weeks after passenger David Dao was dragged off a plane by security officers in Chicago.

Dr Dao suffered a concussion, broken nose and two lost teeth after he refused to give up his seat for a crew member before the flight left for Louisville, his lawyer said.

Initially, Mr Munoz appeared to blame Dr Dao for the incident. But amid a backlash, the United CEO later said he felt "shame" over how the situation was handled.

But Mr Munoz's apologies have done little to quell the controversy as United found itself the source of criticism from customers and the butt of jokes from late-night comics.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 23, 2017, with the headline 'United Airlines to link exec bonuses to customer service'. Print Edition | Subscribe