United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said Tuesday that the incident where a passenger was forcibly dragged off a flight was a “horrible failure” and that the airline has reached a “turning point.”
“For the last three weeks, I have spent literally every single day thinking about how we got to this point. What chain of events culminates into the injury of a customer and the loss of trust in so many more,” Munoz said in his opening statement during a congressional hearing on Tuesday.
“This has to be a turning point for the 8,700 professionals here at United.” he said.
Congressmen on the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee grilled Munoz and other airline leaders about how they plan to improve their customer service policies in the wake of the United incident.
The incident happened on April 9 aboard a plane in Chicago heading to Louisville. The passenger, 69-year-old David Dao, was dragged off the plane by Chicago Aviation police officers after refusing to give up his seat on the plane. A fellow passenger recorded the incident and the video quickly went viral.
The video sparked public outrage, not only against United, but against the airline industry in general for its practice of overbooking and treatment of passengers.
Leaders from Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and American Airlines were all present at the hearing.
Congressmen pressed the airline execs about their overbooking policies and their contract of carriage, which can range from 20 pages to more than 60 pages and are often difficult to understand. Munoz, though, faced the brunt of the fury.
Several times representatives asked Munoz questions about how United could simplify its policies, only to interrupt him mid-answer.
“It’s shameful that an event like the one we had at United has to drive this kind of conversation…but this will make us better.”
Munoz told representatives United identified four key things that led to a “horrible failure” on April 9, when Mr. Dao was removed from flight 3411.
First, the company called on law enforcement to help handle a situation where safety and security were not an issue. Second, United rebooked crew at the very last minute. Third, the company did not offer enough compensation to convince someone to give up their seat. And finally, the airline’s employees did not have the authority to do what was right and “use their common sense,” Munoz said.
Munoz said United has begun implementing changes to address these issues and more in order to make sure an event like that involving Mr. Dao never happens again.
In late March, United introduced its new and improved policies, which includes offering passengers as much as $10,000 for giving up their seat when a flight is overbooked. The company also said it will never ask someone to give up their seat if they have already boarded the plane.
“Our actions will speak louder than our words,” Munoz said. “We will do better.”