CHICAGO (CBS) — At a hearing on Capitol Hill, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz promised Congress “we will do better” in the wake of the airline’s passenger dragging fiasco, which left Dr. David Dao bloodied and concussed.
Munoz and executives from other major airlines were grilled at a House Transportation Committee hearing on Tuesday. Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said “something is broken” and the airlines all agreed they can do better.
Munoz outlined many of the failings of old policies, and acknowledged United never should have called in law enforcement to remove a paid passenger from a plane for refusing to give up his seat for an airline employee who needed to be on the same flight.
“We called on law enforcement when safety or security did not exist. That should never happen, period. Second, we rebooked crew at the last minute. We created a situation at own doing that we should never [have] done,” he said. “In perhaps the largest failure, our employees did not have the authority to do what was right; or to use, frankly, their common sense, as some of you outlined, and in that moment, for our customers and our company, we failed.
The public relations nightmare that followed the dragging of Dr. Dao down the aisle of Flight 3411 last month has consumer advocates calling for a complete uniform “Passenger Bill of Rights.” They said passengers are at the mercy of the airlines.
“All of the language in the contracts, as I stated, favor the airlines here. If you’re delayed getting to the airport because your taxi driver had an accident, and you have a non-refundable ticket, you’re out,” aviation consultant Willam J. McGee said.
Much of the hearing focused on the practice of overbooking – which airlines rely on to make sure every seat is filled on every flight. While most airlines have pledged to offer much greater compensation to passengers when they need to bump someone from an overbooked flight, Southwest Airlines has pledged to end the practice entirely.
The question remains whether lawmakers believe airlines will address these issues on their own, or whether they will pass legislation to intervene on behalf of passengers.
A U.S. Senate panel will hold a separate hearing on Thursday. Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans will testify at that hearing.