United CEO Vows “This Will Never Happen Again”

CHICAGO (CBS) — The CEO of United Airlines apologized again Wednesday after a passenger was dragged off a flight at O’Hare International Airport on Sunday, and he promised “this can never – will never – happen again.”

Dr. David Dao was dragged off a flight from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday, after the crew tried to find four passengers willing to give up their seats to allow four United employees to get on the flight, but no one volunteered, despite United’s offers of up to $800. Dao refused to leave on his own when he was chosen at random to get off the plane.

In an interview on “Good Morning America” on ABC, United CEO Oscar Munoz vowed his airline never again would have police remove a paid customer from a plane if no one decides to leave voluntarily based on financial incentives.

“We are not going to put a law enforcement official to take them off there,” Munoz said. “To remove a booked, paid, seating passenger; we can’t do that.”

Munoz said he felt ashamed after seeing video of a Chicago Department of Aviation security officer dragging Dao by his arms down the aisle of United flight 3411 on Sunday.

“As I think about our business, and our people, the first thing I think is important to say is to apologize to Dr. Dao, his family, the passengers on that flight, our customers, our employees. That is not who our family at United is, and you saw us during a bad moment, this can never – will never – happen again on a United Airlines flight. That’s my promise,” Munoz said.

Although Munoz originally accused Dao of being “disruptive and belligerent” when he was told he would have to leave flight 3411 on Sunday, but on Wednesday Munoz said Dao was not at fault.

“He can’t be. He was a paying passenger, sitting on our seat, in our aircraft, and no one should be treated that way, period,” Munoz said.

Munoz acknowledged his initial apology, in which he said “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these passengers” was insufficient.

“My initial words fell short of truly expressing what we were feeling, and that’s something that I’ve learned from. The expression of apology, and specific to the folks I mentioned before, is an important part of a conversation like this, because, again, that shame and embarrassment was pretty palpable for me and for a lot of our family,” he said.

New video of the incident shows Dao speaking on the phone as a Chicago Department of Aviation security officer tried to get him to leave the plane. Dao informed the officer he’s a physician and had to get back to Louisville to see patients Monday morning. At one point, the officer said he would have to drag Dao off the flight if he didn’t leave voluntarily.

“No, I’m not going. I am not going,” Dao said. “Well, you can then drag me. I don’t go. I’m not going. I’m staying right here.”

The crew on United flight 3411 was trying to make room for four employees of a partner airline who needed to get to Louisville by Monday morning to crew another flight, and had asked for four volunteers to give up their seats.

United first offered $400 and a free hotel stay, and when no volunteers came forward, upped the offer to $800. When they still got no volunteers, a United manager picked four passengers at random, including Dao.

Dao refused to leave voluntarily, a CDA security officer pulled him out of his seat and dragged him down the aisle by his arms. Dao later managed to get back on the plane, his face bloodied, as he repeatedly said “I have to go home.”

Munoz called the incident a “system failure,” and said the airline has launched a “deep and thorough review” of its policies to prevent a similar problem in the future.

Other than his vow United would never again ask police to remove a paying customer from a plane, Munoz did not specify what policies might change, but he said their staff should be empowered to use “common sense” when they have to ask passengers to leave a flight.

“We have not provided our frontline supervisors and managers and individuals with the proper tools, policies, procedures that allow them to use their common sense. They all have an incredible amount of common sense, and this issue could have been solved by that. That’s on me. I have to fix that, and I think that’s something we can do,” Munoz said.

United originally said flight 3411 was overbooked, but later backtracked and said that they asked passengers to leave the flight because four employees showed up who needed to get to Louisville by Monday to crew another flight.

Although Munoz took full blame for the incident, he said he has no plans to resign.

“I was hired to make United better, and we’ve been doing that, and that’s what I’ll continue to do,” he said.

Dao has hired the prominent law firm Corboy & Demetrio as well as business and commercial law firm Golan Christie Taglia to represent him.

“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,” attorney Stephen Golan said in a prepared statement.

Dao was taken to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital after the incident, but has since been released.

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