After suffering a PR nightmare over an incident on a plane wherein a customer was dragged from his seat, United Airlines said the flight was not overbooked. The airline had previously cited an overbooked flight as the reason four passengers were asked to give up their seats. It turns out that the plane had enough seats for the 70 passengers, but the reason that the airline asked for volunteers to leave the flight was because four "must-fly" crew members needed to board so they could get to a downline connection in Lewisville the next day, United spokesman Jonathan Guerin confirmed to USA Today on Tuesday.
According to the account from United, after Flight 3411 had finished boarding, four United crew members approached gate agents explaining that they needed to board the flight. United then asked for volunteers to give up their seats and offered compensation for those who participated. When none of the passengers volunteered to leave, the airline picked four passengers at random to do so. Three passengers deboarded the plane, and one refused. Chicago Department of Aviation security officers were called in to remove the passenger.
However, the manner in which the passenger was removed from the flight stirred up controversy. After he refused to leave the plane, three Chicago Department of Aviation security officers forcibly dragged the passenger from the plane by his arms and legs, and he suffered some wounds to his face during the process.
Some passengers recorded the incident on their phones. The disturbing footage spread on social media soon after it happened on Sunday. United is suffering both in the public eye due to the horrifying footage causing a PR nightmare, as well as in its business. The airline has lost an estimated $250 million in market value since the incident.
One of the Department of Aviation security officers involved in dragging a passenger off a United plane was placed on leave.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz released a statement on Monday that didn't help matters. He said, "This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened."
His statement came off as a bit cold, especially when considering the violence in the video that was released. On Tuesday, after much public outcry, Munoz released a second apology, which addressed the behavior in the video more directly, saying “I continue to be disturbed by what happened. I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way. We are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again."
Munoz also promised a review of the situation by April 30. It's definitely a step in the right direction, but it's also taken much longer than it should have for United to get to the apology phase. Hopefully the company can handle these types of situations better in the future.