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Posted: April 11, 2017

United CEO's internal email describes man dragged off flight as 'disruptive,' 'belligerent'

AP
This Sunday, April 9, 2017, image made from a video provided by Audra D. Bridges shows a passenger being removed from a United Airlines flight in Chicago. Video of police officers dragging the passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight sparked an uproar Monday on social media, and a spokesman for the airline insisted that employees had no choice but to contact authorities to remove the man. (Audra D. Bridges via AP)

By Patrick McMahon, Rare.us

After disturbing videos surfaced of a passenger being dragged off a plane because the flight was overbooked, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz told employees that he "emphatically" stands behind them in an internal email circulated to United Airlines employees and acquired by CNBC.

>> Man forcibly removed from flight after not voluntarily giving up seat on overbooked flight

Munoz’s public apology, also reported earlier Monday by NBC News, read:

“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 authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”

But in an email circulated to employees Monday, Munoz opened with, “Like you, I was upset to see and hear what happened last night,” and wrote that "the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this passenger defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers."

Munoz wrote that the “situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we asked to deplane refused” and that employees “followed established procedures.”

>> When can an airline force a ticketed passenger off a plane?

"While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right,” Munoz also wrote before including a brief summary of internal reports of the incidents. “I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation."

The United CEO added that the passenger at the center of the video, who said he was a doctor and had patients to see the following morning, was “disruptive and belligerent.” He said the airline “sought volunteers” before they followed an “involuntary denial of boarding process.”

>> Watch the news report here

– The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.


Related

Man forcibly removed from flight after not voluntarily giving up seat on flight

Another black eye for the airline industry after a flight crew had police remove a man who refused to voluntarily give up his seat on a flight.

United Airlines had overbooked the flight and had asked for four volunteers to give up their seats so other people could fly from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday, WHAS reported.

According to passengers, the seats were needed for airline personnel who needed to travel to be at work the next day.

The man refused, claiming he was a doctor and had to get home to see patients, The Telegraph reported.  

Flight crews called aviation police, who dragged him from his seat and down the aisle of the plane.

Additional video has come to light of the man bloodied after being removed from his seat.

Chicago police told NBC News that the man “became irate” after being chosen to give up his seat on overbooked flight and that police were called when he began raising his voice. 

Police said the man fell after they tried to carry him off of the flight. He apparently hit his face on an armrest, NBC News reported.

He was taken to a hospital and treated for his injuries.

One of the officers involved in escorting the man from the flight has been reportedly placed on leave.

United Airlines gave WHAS this response to the incident:

“Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation.”

United Airlines has since posted a response on its Twitter page saying that they are reaching out to the passenger in question “address and resolve this situation.”

Passengers, before they boarded the flight Sunday, were offered $400 and a hotel room to willingly relinquish their seat to take a later flight scheduled for Monday, The Courier-Journal reported. When they boarded, they were told that four people would have to disembark and the offer was increased to $800. When no one volunteered, a computer randomly picked four passengers. A couple agreed to leave the flight, but the man in the video refused, , The Courier-Journal reported.  There is no word who the fourth person was or if he or she left the flight.

Last month, teens who boarded a flight wearing leggings were removed by United Airlines. Three girls were traveling on an employee pass and the airline said that it has a no-leggings policy for employees when using the pass. Two of the girls left the flight. A third, who was also wearing leggings, put a dress on over the tight-fitting pants and was allowed on the flight.

The headline of this story has been changed to reflect that the flight was not overbooked, according to United spokesman Jonathan Guerin.

When can an airline force a ticketed passenger off a plane?

News of a man being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight on Sunday after not voluntarily giving up his seat is making the rounds, raising questions about what authority airlines have to remove ticketed passengers in situations of overbooking.

>> Read more trending news

According to accounts from passengers on the flight, which was leaving from Chicago O’Hare International Airport and bound for Louisville, the airline wanted the seats for employees who needed to travel to be at work the next day. Cellphone video from the aircraft shows a man who said he was a doctor being forced from his seat and dragged down the aisle of the plane as onlookers screamed, “Oh, my God!” 

Related: Man forcibly removed from flight after not voluntarily giving up seat on overbooked flight

It hasn’t been a great few months for United Airlines. In March, the airline received widespread criticism for barring two teens from their flight because they were wearing leggings.

So in what situations do the airlines have the right to force ticketed passengers from a plane? And what is the protocol for doing so?

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, overbooking is legal, with most airlines overbooking their scheduled flights to a certain extent in order to compensate for no-shows. When overselling occurs, the DOT requires airlines to ask people to give up their seats voluntarily in exchange for compensation. If no one volunteers, the airline may then bump passengers involuntarily, although they too are entitled to compensation.

According to United’s Contract of Carriage, “If a flight is oversold, no one may be denied boarding against his/her will until UA or other carrier personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservations willingly in exchange for compensation as determined by UA. If there are not enough volunteers, other passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with UA’s boarding priority.”

The contract states that passengers with disabilities, unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 and minors ages 5-15 who use the unaccompanied minor service will be the last to be involuntarily denied boarding. It adds that “the priority of all other confirmed passengers may be determined based on a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment.”

According to the DOT’s Consumer Guide to Air Travel, airlines must give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily “a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn’t. Those travelers who don’t get to fly are frequently entitled to denied boarding compensation in the form of a check or cash. The amount depends on the price of their ticket and the length of the delay.”

DOT statistics show that, on average, only about one of every 10,000 airline passengers is bumped involuntarily, although that number can increase over the holidays and during other busy travel seasons.

United has said little about the incident but did release this response to WHAS: “Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation.”

United CEO Oscar Munoz later issued a statement on Twitter Monday, saying,  “Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”

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