United finally apologizes as image takes beating
Chicago, 12 Apr 2017: The chief executive of embattled United Airlines has unequivocally apologized for an incident in which a passenger was dragged off a plane, and promised a thorough review of the airline’s practices. The apology came yesterday after a torrent of criticism of the carrier’s action on a flight Sunday and its initial explanation of it.
In images now seen around the world, a passenger was forcefully removed and bloodied in the process -- the entire event captured on video by passengers and posted on social media.
The 69-year-old passenger, Dr. David Dao, had refused to be "bumped" from the overbooked flight -- an airline practice that has come under increased scrutiny since the incident.
"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," CEO Oscar Munoz said yesterday. "I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right."
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. US media published an email Munoz sent earlier to employees, in which he said the passenger "defied" authorities and "compounded" the incident.
"Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this," the CEO wrote. Andy Holdsworth, a crisis management specialist at the British PR firm Bell Pottinger, said United’s initial response focused on the wrong thing. "Whilst the passenger’s behavior was not good, United have shown no compassion or concern for the man," he said.
Munoz said yesterday that the company will conduct a "thorough review" of its procedures, including "how we handle oversold situations" and how the airline partners with airport authorities and law enforcement. He promised to release the results of the review by April 30.
But the public relations damage was done, with calls for boycotts and the US Department of Transportation promising a review of the airline’s actions. Even the White House weighed in.
"Clearly, when you watch the video, it is troubling to see how that was handled," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. An attorney for Dao’s 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. Currently, they are focused only on Dr. Dao’s medical care and treatment," said Chicago attorney Stephen Golan. A protest by the advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice was expected later yesterday in Chicago.