United Airlines will not use police to remove overbooked passengers

Chief executive of beleaguered airline continues damage limitation effort as shares fall

United Airlines have come under fire after footage of a passenger being forcibly removed from a flight at Chicago O'Hare International Airport goes viral. Video: Reuters

United Airlines will no longer use law enforcement officers to remove passengers from overbooked flights after global outrage erupted over a video showing a passenger dragged from one of its planes in Chicago.

“We’re not going to put a law enforcement official ... to remove a booked, paid, seated passenger,” United Continental Holdings chief executive Oscar Munoz told ABC News on Wednesday morning. “We can’t do that.”

Munoz said United would be examining its incentive programme for volunteers on overbooked flights and that once a passenger is already seated, “your incentive model needs to change”.

The Sunday evening incident caused outrage around the world as video recorded by fellow passengers showed airport security officers snatching Dr David Dao from his seat aboard Louisville, Kentucky-bound United Flight 3411 and dragging him down the aisle and out of the passenger cabin.


Much of the uproar stemmed from Dr Dao’s status as a paying passenger who was being removed to make room for additional crew members on the overbooked flight.

On Capitol Hill, powerful Republican and Democratic lawmakers denounced how Dao was treated and called for United to explain the situation.

On Wednesday, US senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, announced plans for the Customers Not Cargo Act, which would prohibit the forcible removal of passengers already aboard an aircraft “due to overbooking or airline staff seeking to fly as passengers”.

‘System failure’

Munoz said Sunday’s incident resulted from a “system failure” that prevented employees from using “common sense” and that Dao, whose face was bloodied during the altercation with security before takeoff, was not at fault.

An online petition calling for Munoz to step down as chief executive had more than 55,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon, but he told ABC that he had no plans to resign over the incident.

Shares of United Continental were barely changed at $70.61 in afternoon trading. They had fallen as much as 4.4 per cent on Tuesday.

The backlash from the incident resonated around the world, with social media users in the United States, China and Vietnam calling for boycotts of the number three US carrier by passenger traffic and an end to the practice of overbooking flights.

Delta Air Lines Inc CEO Ed Bastian defended overbooking as “a valid business practice” that does not require additional oversight by the government.

“It’s not a question, in my opinion, as to whether you overbook,” Bastian said on a Wednesday earnings call. “It’s how you manage an overbook situation.”

As of Tuesday, Dr Dao was still in a Chicago hospital recovering from his injuries, his lawyer said.

“Currently, [Dao and his family] are focused only on Dr Dao’s medical care and treatment,” Chicago-based lawyer Stephen Golan said on Tuesday.

Footage from the incident shows Dr Dao, bloodied and dishevelled, returning to the cabin and repeating: “Just kill me. Kill me,” and “I have to go home.”

In the ABC interview, Munoz apologised profusely to Dr Dao, his family, passengers and United customers.

“This can never, will never happen again,” he said.