Two more Chicago Department of Aviation officers have been placed on leave after a United Airlines passenger’s violent removal from a flight on Sunday. A total of three agency officers have been placed on leave following the incident.
The episode has turned into a publicity nightmare for United. Amid plummeting stocks and boycott threats, newly released footage appears to contradict United CEO Oscar Munoz’s claim that Dr. David Dao’s belligerence left agents with no choice but to forcibly remove him.
Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has called for a suspension to the widespread practice of overbooking. Christie’s state has a special interest in United’s practices because he said the airline controls 70% of the flights at Newark Liberty International Airport.
“To have somebody pay for a ticket, reserve a seat, be seated and then dragged off the plane physically by law enforcement officers at the direction of United (Airlines) — it’s outrageous,” Christie told CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday. “With United, the customer is always last.”
United CEO: This ‘will never happen again’
Munoz came under fire for praising employees in a memo shortly after the incident and not issuing an apology to Dao for two days. By Wednesday, his tone had taken a contrite turn.
“That is not who our family at United is. And you saw us at a bad moment,” Munoz told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday morning.
That bad moment left Dao screaming as he was dragged off an oversold flight Sunday night. Passengers said blood dripped from his mouth after he hit his head on an armrest.
When Munoz first saw footage of the passenger getting violently yanked off one of his planes, he said one emotion washed over him: shame.
“It’s not so much what I thought, it’s what I felt. Probably the word ‘ashamed’ comes to mind,” he said in the interview.
The CEO vowed to never again let a law enforcement remove “a booked, paid, seated passenger,” from a plane.
He said he has unsuccessfully tried to reach the passenger to apologize directly. He said Dao is not at fault, a change in tune from his initial comments on the matter.
“He can’t be. He was a paying passenger sitting on our seat in our aircraft, and no one should be treated like that. Period.”
Injured passenger: ‘Everything’ hurts
Meanwhile, passengers keep coming forward with video and new accounts offering a fuller picture of the altercation.
After passengers had already boarded the plane, United said it needed to clear some seats for four members of another flight crew who needed to get to Louisville.
Dao and his wife initially agreed to get off the plane, passenger Jayse Anspach said. But once they found out that the next flight wasn’t until Monday afternoon, he demurred and sat back, saying he was a physician who needed to get to work the next day.
The harder the officers tried to get the man to leave, the harder the man insisted he stay.
“He was very emphatic: ‘I can’t be late. I’m a doctor. I’ve got to be there tomorrow,’ ” Anspach recalled.
Joya and Forest Cummings were sitting behind Dao on the United flight and began recording video after an airline supervisor asked Dao to leave the plane and he refused.
Dao was not belligerent when speaking to the airline officials, the Cummings said. Dao only started to get mildly upset when the second officer came on the plane after he continued to refuse to leave. The Cummingses both said Dao never raised his voice when speaking to the officers and airline officials, and that reports that Dao acted belligerent are simply not true.
The doctor’s pleas didn’t work. Moments later, he was being dragged down the aisle. At one point, passengers said, Dao hit his head on an armrest. Video shows blood streaming from his mouth.
Dao is recovering in a Chicago hospital, said his lawyer, who is scheduled to give a press conference Thursday.
When asked what his injuries were, Dao said “everything,” CNN affiliate WLKY reported.
“The family of Dr. Dao wants the world to know that they are very appreciative of the outpouring of prayers, concern and support they have received,” his attorney, Stephen L. Golan, said in a statement.
Yes, this can happen to anyone
The incident repulsed United customers across the country. Some protested by cutting up their United mileage cards.
“My new #united card. Not planning to fly them any more after this,” Josh Perfetto tweeted.
United also took a hit on the stock market. Shares in United Airlines slipped by 4% Tuesday, and the company’s market value plummeted by $1 billion.
Anyone can be kicked off an overbooked flight against their will. In 2015 alone, 46,000 customers were involuntarily bumped from flights, according to the Department of Transportation.
Overbooking is legal, and most airlines do it in anticipation of no-shows, the US Department of Transportation said.
If no one volunteers to get off, the airline can select passengers for removal based on criteria such as check-in time or the cost of a ticket, according to the department’s Fly-Rights.
It’s an often-overlooked policy to which you agree when you book your tickets.
In a letter to US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Gov. Christie said the practice needs to be suspended.
“Every day passengers are being ‘bumped off’ flights,” Christie wrote.
“Passengers who have paid the fare for their ticket and reserved a seat should not be subject to this arbitrary ‘bumping’ except in the most extreme of circumstances and certainly not to accommodate employees of United Airlines.”