Se­na­tors probe forced re­moval of United pas­sen­ger

De­mand an­swers from CEO, Chicago of­fi­cial

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY LAURA KELLY

The drama sur­round­ing the forced re­moval of a United Ex­press pas­sen­ger and the re­sponse by the United CEO came to a head Tues­day, as se­na­tors con­demned the in­ci­dent and de­manded a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mat­ter.

The Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Com­merce, Sci­ence and Trans­porta­tion sent a let­ter Tues­day evening to CEO Os­car Munoz and Com­mis­sioner of the Chicago Depart­ment of Avi­a­tion Ginger Evans ask­ing for a con­clu­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tion to be de­liv­ered by April 20.

Mr. Munoz ear­lier an­nounced a com­pany in­ves­ti­ga­tion to be con­cluded by April 30.

“The images and emerg­ing ac­counts of this in­ci­dent are very dis­turb­ing,” the bi­par­ti­san com­mit­tee wrote in its let­ter. “The last thing a pay­ing air­line pas­sen­ger should ex­pect is a phys­i­cal al­ter­ca­tion with law en­force­ment per­son­nel after board­ing, es­pe­cially one that could likely have been avoided.”

The com­mit­tee noted that the Chicago Depart­ment of Avi­a­tion sus­pended the ar­rest­ing of­fi­cer after the in­ci­dent, but it re­quested a full ac­count of poli­cies and pro­ce­dures and a list of vi­o­la­tions.

The com­mit­tee wrote to Mr. Munoz that United’s ex­pla­na­tion of the in­ci­dent “has been un­sat­is­fac­tory, and ap­pears to un­der­es­ti­mate the pub­lic anger about this in­ci­dent.”

A video show­ing a pas­sen­ger be­ing force­fully and vi­o­lently re­moved from the plane went vi­ral Mon­day.

In the video, shot by pas­sen­gers on Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville, Ken­tucky, on Sun­day, a man’s screams are heard as se­cu­rity vi­o­lently pulls him from his seat into the nar­row air­plane aisle.

The man has been iden­ti­fied as Dr. David Dao.

Dr. Dao, who said he had pa­tients to see the next day, is dragged out of his seat and into the aisle. He is pulled by se­cu­rity of­fi­cers by his arms, and there is blood on his face, his glasses are fall­ing off, and his shirt is pulled up over his stom­ach.

Dr. Dao was one of four ran­domly se­lected pas­sen­gers to be bumped from the flight be­cause of over­book­ing. The seats were go­ing to air­line em­ploy­ees who needed to be in Louisville for the next day’s op­er­a­tions.

The Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion notes that over­book­ing is not il­le­gal but it does re­quire airlines to com­pen­sate pas­sen­gers who are moved. Other re­quire­ments in­clude ask­ing for vol­un­teers at the check-in or board­ing area be­fore ran­domly choos­ing pas­sen­gers to bump. Wit­nesses re­ported that United did these and even dou­bled its com­pen­sa­tion of­fer from $400 to $800, but no­body vol­un­teered to de­lay their trip.

“This whole trend of over­book­ing is re­ally aw­ful,” said Lor­raine Abe­low, pres­i­dent of Abe­low PR, who works with airlines but not United. “It’s a pol­icy they should se­ri­ously con­sider re­vis­ing.”

In ad­di­tion to the com­mit­tee-re­quested in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which also sought an­swers to United’s pol­icy of bump­ing pas­sen­gers, Sen. Mark R. Warner, Vir­ginia Demo­crat, and 20 col­leagues signed a let­ter de­mand­ing more an­swers

from United, specif­i­cally on its over­book­ing pol­icy.

“While it is com­mon prac­tice for com­mer­cial airlines to sell more tick­ets than there are phys­i­cal seats on an air­craft to ac­count for po­ten­tial ‘no-show’ pas­sen­gers, over­selling tick­ets can have se­vere con­se­quences for the trav­el­ing pub­lic,” the se­na­tors wrote.

Adding to the con­dem­na­tion, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called on the Sec­re­tary of Trans­porta­tion Elaine L. Chao to sus­pend the fed­eral reg­u­la­tion that per­mits airlines to over­book flights.

“This con­duct is abu­sive and out­ra­geous. The ridicu­lous state­ments, now in their third ver­sion, of the CEO of United Airlines dis­plays their cal­lous­ness to­ward the trav­el­ing pub­lic with the per­mis­sion of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment,” Mr. Christie, an early Repub­li­can sup­porter of Pres­i­dent Trump, said in a state­ment Tues­day night.

“I know the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to re­form reg­u­la­tions to help the Amer­i­can peo­ple. This would be a great place to start,” Mr. Christie said.

The video of Dr. Dao’s vi­o­lent

re­moval has been viewed hundreds of thou­sands of times on so­cial me­dia, and the slow re­sponse by Mr. Munoz was seen not only as a pub­lic re­la­tions fail­ure, but detri­men­tal to the busi­ness as well.

CBS re­ported that by Tues­day morn­ing, 340 mil­lion Chi­nese users of the so­cial me­dia plat­form Weibo were aware of the in­ci­dent. While Dr. Dao is re­ported to be Viet­namese, Chi­nese com­menters were call­ing for a boy­cott of the air­line, say­ing the in­ci­dent amounted to dis­crim­i­na­tion, ac­cord­ing to CNN.

United flies to five cities in China, plus Hong Kong and Taipei, and 12 other des­ti­na­tions through­out Asia.

Bloomberg re­ported that shares dropped by around 5 per­cent for United Con­ti­nen­tal Hold­ings — the par­ent group of United Airlines — by Tues­day af­ter­noon.

The United CEO’s first re­sponse to the in­ci­dent on Twit­ter on Mon­day ac­knowl­edged the dis­turb­ing video but apol­o­gized only for “hav­ing to re-ac­co­mo­date” the pas­sen­ger.

His re­sponse gar­nered a Twit­ter

back­lash for his choice of words with pub­lic re­la­tions pro­fes­sion­als shak­ing their heads at the blun­der.

“This is cri­sis PR and you need to come right out and say it, not hide be­hind words,” said a com­ment by Ms. Abe­low, the pub­lic re­la­tions ex­ec­u­tive.

Fur­ther con­dem­na­tion came when CNBC re­ported an in­ter­nal memo by Mr. Munoz that ex­pressed sup­port for the ac­tions of United em­ploy­ees and se­cu­rity per­son­nel.

He said that be­cause the pas­sen­ger was “dis­rup­tive and bel­liger­ent,” crew mem­bers were left with no choice but to call Chicago avi­a­tion se­cu­rity of­fi­cers. “I em­phat­i­cally stand be­hind all of you,” the memo says.

By Tues­day af­ter­noon, Mr. Munoz was pres­sured to back­track on his sec­ond state­ment.

“The truly hor­rific event that oc­curred on this flight has elicited many re­sponses from all of us: out­rage, anger, dis­ap­point­ment,” the CEO wrote.

“I share all of those sen­ti­ments, and one above all: my deep­est apolo­gies for what hap­pened. … 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,” he said.

Mo­ments be­fore United is­sued that state­ment, White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer said the pas­sen­ger footage showed a dis­turb­ing and un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dent but that it didn’t war­rant a re­sponse from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

“There’s plenty of law en­force­ment to re­view a sit­u­a­tion like that, and I know United Airlines has said they are cur­rently re­view­ing their own poli­cies. Let’s not get ahead of where that re­view goes,” he said.

“I don’t think any­one looks at that video and isn’t a lit­tle dis­turbed that another hu­man be­ing is treated that way, but again, I think one of the things peo­ple have to un­der­stand is when there is a po­ten­tial law en­force­ment man­ner for the pres­i­dent to weigh in, pro or con, would prej­u­dice a po­ten­tial out­come.”

This in­ci­dent comes on the heels of another pub­lic re­la­tions dis­as­ter for the air­line. Last month, two ado­les­cent girls were al­most barred from a flight for wear­ing leg­gings.

The girls were fly­ing as com­pan­ions of staff on standby, and United pol­icy dic­tates that staff and their com­pan­ions dress busi­ness-ca­sual in such cir­cum­stances. The girls were given skirts to put over their leg­gings be­fore they were al­lowed to fly.

The power of so­cial me­dia to in­flu­ence a com­pany was on dis­play just last week when Pepsi pulled an ad­ver­tise­ment that crit­ics said co-opted protests to sell soda.

The ad fea­tured re­al­ity TV star and model Ken­dall Jen­ner walk­ing through a protest. She breaks the line be­tween pro­test­ers and po­lice to hand an of­fi­cer a Pepsi, which he ac­cepts with a smile.

Crit­ics slammed the com­mer­cial for cheap­en­ing and com­mer­cial­iz­ing protest move­ments such as Black Lives Mat­ter.

“Clearly we missed the mark, and we apol­o­gize,” the com­pany said in a state­ment last week. “We did not in­tend to make light of any se­ri­ous is­sue. We are re­mov­ing the con­tent and halt­ing any fur­ther roll­out.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.