Amid public outcry against United Airlines for the company's forcible removal of 69-year-old doctor David Dao from a flight on April 9 and the announcement that Dao will now sue the airline for damages, United Airlines pilots are finally speaking out about the incident.
On Sunday, a flight from Chicago to Kentucky operated by a United Airlines Express carrier was interrupted when the crew needed to remove four passengers to make room for employees to reach the destination. Dao was randomly selected to give up his seat, and when he refused to leave, stating that he had to work at the hospital the next morning, United sent in Chicago Aviation police officers to apprehend him. He was grabbed and dragged through the aisle of the airline, and he reportedly suffered injuries as a result.
On Thursday, the United Master Executive Council, the union that represents United pilots, released a statement to clarify these events, stating that the organization initially "withheld judgement" to ensure that it was receiving accurate information, but that it is now ready to speak up.
"The safety and well-being of our passengers is the highest priority for United pilots, and this should not have escalated into a violent encounter," the statement read. "United pilots are infuriated by this event."
Throughout the rest of the letter, the union seemed to divert blame from United Airlines directly onto the Chicago Aviation police, even going so far as to claim that all "social media ire should be directed to the Chicago Department of Aviation." The three officers involved in the incident have been put on leave while an investigation takes place. Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride responded to the incident in an email on Monday afternoon, claiming aviation officers did not follow standard protocol:
The incident 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.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz received criticism earlier this week for initially blaming Dao's "belligerence" for his forcible removal instead of apologizing for the incident. However, on Tuesday, Munoz issued another statement, stressing that the airline takes responsibility and hopes to change:
Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. 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.
The new statement from the United Master Executive Council is already starting to receive similar criticism to Munoz's first statement, because it offers a perspective of the incident that removes United officials from the controversy:
For reasons unknown to us, instead of trained Chicago Police Department officers being dispatched to the scene, Chicago Department of Aviation personnel responded. At this point, without direction and outside the control of United Airlines or the Republic crew, the Chicago Department of Aviation forcibly removed the passenger.
You can read the letter in its entirety here.