United CEO: “I’m Sorry. We Will Fix This.”

The story of a man being dragged off a United flight after being bumped is going massively viral. Just anecdotally, I am currently on a group tour abroad, and my entire group—with folks from seven different countries—have all found out overnight independently from social media.

I think most people can agree that United could have handled this way better; from preventing having to bump passengers in the first place to the “non-apologies” they offered in the aftermath. With each new statement from United’s PR team and from the CEO, United seemed to be digging a bigger and bigger hole for themselves. An internal email even saw the United CEO thanking employees for “going above and beyond.” Even with the cautious understanding that he may have wanted to back up his employee, the letter was far too positive.

To be completely fair, involuntary denied boardings (IDBs) do occur—though more so on United’s flight than other carriers. That doesn’t mean that it’s something acceptable at all, or that this incident should just be shrugged off. But at the core, the reason this story went viral is this: what most people saw wasn’t that an aviation officer injured a passenger who was IDBed but refused to get off a plane on a Republic Airlines-operated United flight. What people saw (which is literally what happened) was a video of an Asian man being dragged off the plane, and one with blood all over his face. That’s not an acceptable way to treat a customer, and that’s what United needed to deal with.

Other than the overwhelming “I’m never flying United again” on social media, there seem to be some real consequences. People are cutting up co-branded United credit cards in protest, and United’s stock had fallen as much as 6% in pre-market trading (though the airline did also announce operational performances today). As of this writing, United has lost over $600 million in market cap, compared to Monday’s close.

It appears that United has listened to the Internet, and CEO Oscar Munoz has released a new statement. United’s tweet describes it with Munoz saying, “I’m sorry. We will fix this.”

Full statement below:

Dear Team,

The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. 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.

It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.

I promise you we will do better.

Sincerely,

Oscar

I appreciate this response, and the overall more sincere tone it struck. Though for many people who are already outraged at United, it’s probably too little too late.

Comments

  1. I flew united last June from memphis to Newark and they tried to push me into giving up my seat despite the fact that I am an old grey-haired woman who paid an extra $80 for more leg room in that specific seat. This writer is wrong on many counts. The flight was NOT OVERBOOKED. They decided their own crew members needed the seats more than paying, seated customers. They could have simply rented a van for the crew and had them drive to their airport in readiness for the next day’s work.

    Also, when you are seated, the airline has no more ability to unseat a paying passenger. Bumping must take place before the passenger is seated in the plane to be legal.

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