ATW screenshot of ABC News interview with United CEO Oscar Munoz.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said an incident like the one involving a bumped passenger being violently dragged off an aircraft earlier this week “will never happen again on a United Airlines flight” and promised that law enforcement would never again be used in a similar situation.
Attempting to quell the firestorm that has engulfed United since the April 9 incident, Munoz appeared on the ABC News program “Good Morning America” April 12, offering contrition both for the incident and his initial response to it. The television interview with ABC was his first public appearance since the incident and his initial written statements reacting to it, which sparked widespread criticism and calls for Munoz to step down.
“The word shame comes to mind,” Munoz told ABC when asked how he felt viewing the widely seen video of the incident, adding, “That is not who our family at United is. You saw us at a bad moment. This can never and will never happen again on a United Airlines flight. That’s my premise and that’s my promise.”
Munoz said he has not considered resigning. “I was hired to make United better and we’ve been doing that and that’s what I’ll be continuing to do,” he said.
Munoz promised that a law enforcement officer would never again be used to “remove a booked, paid, seated passenger” from a United flight.
“It was a system failure,” the United CEO said. “We have not provided our frontline supervisors and managers with the proper tools, policies, procedures that allow them to use their common sense. They all have an incredible amount of common sense, and this issue could have been solved by that. That’s on me. I have to fix that.”
Munoz said the incentive program in which passengers on overbooked flights are offered money and other compensation to switch flights “works pretty well outside at the gate,” but acknowledged that the equation changes once a passenger is seated on an aircraft.
He said he and United staff have reached out to the passenger who was dragged off of the aircraft to apologize directly, but have not heard back. In the ABC interview, Munoz backed away from a United internal memo, widely reported by media, in which he appeared to apportion some blame to the passenger. “No, he can’t be” blamed, Munoz said. “He was a paying passenger sitting on our aircraft. No one should be treated that way.”
The incident on United Express flight 3411 has led to calls for stricter regulation of airline overbooking. Speaking to reporters to discuss Delta Air Lines’ first-quarter results, CEO Ed Bastian defended the practice and said it does not create problems if it is appropriately managed.
“Overbooking is a valid business process,” Bastian said. “It’s not a question of whether you overbook. It’s how you manage an overbooking situation.” He said only one in 100,000 Delta passengers were involuntarily bumped in 2016.
Bastian said it is important to give “frontline employees the tools and flexibility to empower them at the first point of contact” to manage overbooking situations. “I think the key is managing it before you get to the boarding process,” he said.
Bastian said more regulations are not the answer, noting that a one-size-fits-all solution would be hard to devise. “I don’t think we need additional legislation,” he said, explaining that passengers sometimes need to be bumped for reasons other than the overselling of flights and airlines need flexibility. A flight can end up overbooked because of weather-related flight delays and cancellations that force passengers to be moved from one flight to another, Bastian said. In some cases, he noted, the airline may decide to bump passengers for aircraft weight and balance safety reasons.
Aaron Karp firstname.lastname@example.org