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World

United CEO Says no one Will be Fired for Dragging Incident

United announced two rule changes last week, including saying that it will no longer call police to remove passengers from overbooked planes

In this Sept. 8, 2015, file photo, a United Airlines passenger plane lands at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, photo: AP/Mel Evans
8 months ago

United Airlines executives said Tuesday that it’s too soon to know if last week’s dragging of a man off a plane is hurting ticket sales. The chief executive said no one will be fired over the incident.

CEO Oscar Munoz and other executives apologized again on Tuesday before discussing the airline’s latest financial results with analysts and reporters.

Munoz said he takes full responsibility “for making this right” after the April 9 incident aboard a United Express plane at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. He said the airline will have more to say later this month after it finishes a review of its policies on overbooked flights.

Munoz started the call with an apology to David Dao, the 69-year-old Kentucky physician who was dragged off the plane by Chicago airport officers who had been summoned by United, and to all other customers.

In this Thursday, June 2, 2016, file photo, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz waits to be interviewed, in New York. Photo: AP/Richard Drew

“You can and should expect more from us, and as CEO I take full responsibility for making this right,” Munoz said. He and other executives vowed to treat customers with dignity, and said that what happened to Dao will never happen again.

Munoz’s early statements on the incident were widely criticized. He initially supported employees and blamed Dao, calling him “disruptive and belligerent.” On Tuesday, he was asked if the company ever considered firing anyone.

“I’m sure there was lots of conjecture about me personally,” said Munoz. Then he noted that the board of United Continental Holdings Inc. has supported him.

“It was a system failure across various areas,” Munoz continued. “There was never a consideration for firing an employee.”

Dao’s lawyers have taken steps that foreshadow a lawsuit against the airline and the city of Chicago, which operates O’Hare Airport.

United announced two rule changes last week, including saying that it will no longer call police to remove passengers from overbooked planes. It is not clear whether United oversold Flight 3411, but the flight became overbooked when four Republic Airline employees showed up after passengers had boarded and demanded seats so they could commute to their next assignment, a United Express flight the next morning.

Some politicians and consumer advocates have called for a ban on overselling flights. Munoz declined to address that or other possible changes until the airline finishes a review by April 30.

Even in normal times, airlines closely — even daily — scrutinize numbers such as advance sales and occupancy levels on planes. Yet United officials said they couldn’t measure whether the dragging has affected their business.

“It’s really too early for us to tell anything about bookings and in particular last week because it was the week before Easter, that’s normally a very low booking period,” said United President Scott Kirby. He said that United’s forecast for the April-through-June quarter has not changed.

Munoz said he has received “a lot of support” from United’s high-end customers, although “obviously a lot of people have ideas and thoughts about how we can make things better.”

DAVID KOENIG

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