CHICAGO (CBS) — The bloodied United Airlines passenger dragged screaming from a full plane early this week in Chicago issued a statement through an attorney Tuesday as airline CEO Oscar Munoz accepted greater blame for the highly publicized incident.
David Dao refused to deplane a Louisville-bound airliner Sunday at O’Hare International Airport after United tried to make room for four employees while offering compensation to the bounced passengers. Social-media videos showed Dao resisting and screaming, dragged on the floor and bleeding from his mouth, generating a public-relations nightmare for United and calls for outside investigations.
Dao, a physician from Kentucky, remained hospitalized Tuesday in Chicago, his attorneys said in a statement.
“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,” the statement said. It asked for privacy.
Meanwhile, a day after accusing Dao of being “disruptive and belligerent,” Munoz reversed course and publicly apologized for what he called a “truly horrific event” and vowed to “fix what’s broken so this never happens again.”
United had picked four people at random to remove from the plane, and employees called security to help get Dao off the jet when he refused. An officer has been placed on leave.
DePaul University transportation expert Joe Schwieterman blames Chicago Department of Aviation security officers, not United, for the conflict that erupted on the plane. He says the pilot is allowed to order anyone off the plane.
“If you’re bumped, there’s a series of compensation thresholds that you’re entitled to,” he tells CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez.
Tuesday afternoon, Munoz sent a note to employees apologizing for the incident.
“A message from Oscar: I’m sorry. We will fix this.
The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, 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. No one should ever be mistreated this way.
I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.
It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.
I promise you we will do better.
The apology was a major reversal from just one day earlier, when Munoz appeared to defend the employees involved, and claimed the passenger was “disruptive and belligerent.”
“As you will read, this situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right,” Munoz said. “When we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions,” Munoz said. “He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft, and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent.”
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United Airlines stock dropped more than 3.5 percent in early trading Tuesday, but rebounded somewhat by the afternoon, and was down only 1.5 percent as of 2:15 p.m. Chicago time.
Meantime, the chairman of the Chicago City Council Committee on Aviation has scheduled a public hearing on the incident for Thursday at City Hall, and is calling on representatives from United and the Chicago Department of Aviation to testify.
The officer who dragged the man off the plane has since been placed on leave, and the Chicago Department of Aviation has said his actions “are obviously not condoned.”
SEIU Local 73 is representing the officer. Union officials issued a statement that said, in part, “The incident that occurred on United Flight 3411 was an unfortunate occurrence. We are aware the Chicago Department of Aviation is investigating the incident, and we will reserve further comment until the investigation is completed.”
The public outcry has come at a price, literally, one expert says.
“It’s tens of millions, in terms of brand value and in terms of perception,” crisis counselor Nick Kalm says.
Indeed, United’s stock price hit strong turbulence. Shares dropped about 1 percent Tuesday; that’s roughly a $255 million loss.