United CEO Oscar Munoz makes apology after PR crisis: 'I'm sorry, we will fix this'
A doctor who was violently dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight so that staff could take his seat was filmed with blood flowing down his chin afterwards, saying: "They'll kill me, I want to go home, I want to go home."
Footage of the incident was shared widely on social media and has prompted outrage. The man, named locally as Kentucky physician David Dao, told staff that he was a doctor and needed to get home to treat patients the next day.
After the plane was fully boarded, the company’s “gate agents were approached by crew members that were told they needed to board the flight”, the message leaked to ABC said.
"We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to $1,000 in compensation) and when we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions," CEO Oscar Munoz claimed.
"He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent."
The airline had at first asked for volunteers to give up their seats for the airline staff, offering vouchers worth $400 (£322) and then when no one came forward $800 (£645) per passenger. When no one agreed to leave the flight, United selected four passengers - reportedly at random.
Three got off, but Mr Dao the fourth person refused, saying he had patients he needed to treat.
Three city aviation department security officers then got on the plane and, after two officers tried to reason with the man, a third pointed at him “basically saying, 'Sir, you have to get off the plane,”' said Tyler Bridges, a passenger whose wife, Audra D Bridges, posted a video on Facebook.
One of the security officers could be seen grabbing the screaming man from his window seat, across the armrest and dragging him down the aisle by his arms.
Other passengers on Flight 3411 are heard saying, “Please, my God,” ''What are you doing?“ ''This is wrong,” ''Look at what you did to him“ and ”Busted his lip.“
“We almost felt like we were being taken hostage,” said Tyler Bridges. “We were stuck there. You can't do anything as a traveller. You're relying on the airline.”
Chicago's aviation department said the security officer who grabbed the passenger had been placed on leave.
“The incidence on United Flight 3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the Department,' the department said in a statement.
After a three-hour delay, United Express Flight 3411 took off without the man aboard.
United risks a backlash from passengers, with many people threatening to boycott the airline at the start of a busy holiday period.
In response the CEO of airline has issued an apology on Tuesday, calling the incident "truly horrific".
Mr Munoz said in a note to employees he continues to be disturbed by the events on Sunday night in Chicago.
He said: "No one should ever be mistreated this way."
Mr Munoz was widely criticised for his statements on Monday about the altercation in which he described the 69-year-old man taken off the plane as "disruptive and belligerent".
On Tuesday, Mr Munoz said he was committed to "fix what's broken so this never happens again".
He pledged to review the company's policies for seeking volunteers to give up their seats, for handling oversold flights and for partnering with airport authorities and local law enforcement.
The company plans to share results of the review by April 30.
Spicer: Troubling to watch
Earlier, US President Donald Trump's spokesman said it was "troubling" to watch video of the passenger being dragged from the flight.
But White House press secretary Sean Spicer said it was unlikely the federal government would launch a separate investigation.
Mr Spicer said local authorities and United were reviewing the incident in which a man was forcibly removed at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Video of the confrontation spread across social media.
Mr Spicer said he was sure Mr Trump had seen the video but that any comment from the president could influence a potential outcome of the investigation.
He added that he thinks everyone who has seen the video can agree that the situation could have been handled better.
Video of police officers dragging the passenger from the overbooked flight sparked uproar.
As the flight waited to depart, officers could be seen grabbing the man from a window seat, pulling him across the armrest and dragging him down the aisle by his arms.
United was trying to make room for four employees of a partner airline on the Sunday evening flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky.
Other passengers on Flight 3411 are heard saying, "Please, my God," ''What are you doing?" ''This is wrong," ''Look at what you did to him" and "Busted his lip".
Passenger Audra Bridges posted the video on Facebook, and it has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, and triggered strong criticism of United.
Her husband, Tyler Bridges, said United offered 400 dollar (£322) and then 800 dollar vouchers and a hotel stay for volunteers to give up their seats.
When no-one volunteered, a United manager came on the plane and announced that passengers would be chosen at random.
"We almost felt like we were being taken hostage," Tyler Bridges said. "We were stuck there. You can't do anything as a traveller. You're relying on the airline."
When airline employees named four customers who had to leave the plane, three of them did so. The fourth person refused to move, and police were called, United spokesman Charlie Hobart said.
"We followed the right procedures," Mr Hobart said. "That plane had to depart. We wanted to get our customers to their destinations."
Airlines are allowed to sell more tickets than seats on the plane, and they routinely overbook flights because some people do not show up.
It is not unusual for airlines to offer travel vouchers to encourage people to give up their seats, and there are no rules for the process. When an airline demands that a passenger give up a seat, the airline is required to pay double the passenger's one-way fare, up to $675 (£544) provided the passenger is put on a flight that arrives within one to two hours of the original. The compensation rises to four times the ticket price, up to $1,350 (£1,088), for longer delays.
When they move passengers onto other flights, airlines are required to give those passengers a written description of their compensation rights.
Last year, United forced 3,765 people off oversold flights and another 62,895 United passengers volunteered to give up their seats, probably in exchange for travel vouchers. That is out of more than 86 million people who boarded a United flight in 2016, according to government figures. United ranks in the middle of US carriers when it comes to bumping passengers.
ExpressJet, which operates flights under the United Express, American Eagle and Delta Connection names, had the highest rate of bumping passengers last year. Among the largest carriers, Southwest Airlines had the highest rate, followed by JetBlue Airways.