PHOTO: A United Airlines Airbus A320-232 takes off at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. (photo via Flickr/Tomás Del Coro)
United Airlines continues to find its brand in crisis in the aftermath of the shocking video in which a passenger was involuntarily and violently removed from a flight.
Said passenger was randomly chosen to give up his seat after United had overbooked a flight from Chicago to Louisville. The airline wanted four seats for dead-heading crew members who needed to be repositioned in Louisville by the morning.
When the passenger declined to be re-booked, the airline contacted authorities and the man was forcibly dragged off the flight.
Less than 48 hours later, the aftershocks are still arriving.
The Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement that one of its officers involved in the incident did not follow proper protocol and has been placed on leave pending a review.
"The incident on United Flight 3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure, and the actions are obviously not condoned by the department," the statement read.
According to Fortune magazine, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) said it will reviewing whether United complied with overbook rules that require airlines to set guidelines on how passengers are denied boarding if they do not volunteer to give up their seats.
"While it is legal for airlines to involuntarily bump passengers from an oversold flight when there are not enough volunteers, it is the airline's responsibility to determine its own fair boarding priorities," a DOT spokesperson said in a statement.
In the meantime, United’s brand has been tarnished for the second time in two weeks, following an incident in which it banned a teenager from boarding a flight for wearing leggings. The young woman was traveling on a United employee guest pass, which has a dress code attached to it as part of representing the company.
The social media backlash for that incident was huge, including celebrities who became involved.
The reaction to this latest viral video is even bigger, however, and compounded by what many consider a tone-deaf reaction from the airline. Not only did an initial statement from a company spokesperson not address the incident other than having to re-accommodate passengers, but a follow-up from United CEO Oscar Munoz unleashed a torrent of social media activity after he said that the incident was “an upsetting event to all of us here at United Airlines.”
On Monday night, Munoz sent a letter to all United employees in which he still took a defensive posture.
Like you, I was upset to see and hear about what happened last night aboard United Express Flight 3411 headed from Chicago to Louisville. While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clearer picture of what transpired, I've included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees.
As you will read, this situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. 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.
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.
Oscar Munoz then included these bullet points in defense of what happened:
— On Sunday, April 9, after United Express Flight 3411 was fully boarded, United’s gate agent were approached by crewmembers that were told they needed to board.
— We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to $1,000 in compensation) and when we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crewmember instructions.
— He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft, and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent.
— Our agents were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight. He repeatedly declined to leave.
— Chicago Aviation Security Officers were unable to gain his cooperation and physically removed him from the flight as he continued to resist – running back onto the aircraft in defiance of both our crew and security officials.
Clearly, United's responses haven't been enough to assuage a disillusioned and angry public. Social media has already been bombarded with hashtags such as #boycottunited and #dontflyunited. One needs only wait for United to open their proverbial mouths again before things probably get worse.