United CEO Calls David Dao Incident ‘Humbling,’ Addresses China Backlash
After a weeklong public relations nightmare, United Airlines (NYSE:UAL) is enacting at least two policy changes in response to its widely-criticized, violent removal of paid customer Dr. David Dao from one of its planes this month, CEO Oscar Munoz said during a conference call with investors on Tuesday.
After an initial review of its procedures, United will no longer use law enforcement officers to remove seated passengers from its planes. In addition, the airline will now require crew members to book their flights at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
Munoz once again apologized to Dao for the airline’s handling of the incident, which arose at Chicago O’Hare Airport after Dao was forcibly removed from an overbooked flight to make room for traveling crew members. The United CEO called the incident – and the resulting public relations backlash – a “humbling learning experience.”
“I also want to apologize to all of our customers. They can and should expect more from us,” Munoz said. A thorough review of United’s boarding procedures will be completed by April 30, Munoz noted, adding that the airline will consider additional changes that are in line with a “common-sense approach” to customer service.
When asked about whether the airline would shut down involuntary removals altogether, Munoz declined to comment on any other specific changes. Asked whether United’s board considered disciplinary action against executives or employees, Munoz said the Dao incident occurred due to a “system failure across various areas.”
“There was never a consideration of firing an employee,” he said.
Video footage of a bloodied Dao generated outrage in China, where local media outlets implied the incident occurred due to racism. United officials said it’s too early to say whether the backlash would affect business in Asia.
Munoz said that he will travel to China in the near future to meet with government officials and local customers. He denied the trip was a direct response to the confrontation with Dao, adding that it “has been planned for some time.”
United President Scott Kirby said the company is aiming to become the country’s most “customer-centric airline” in the incident’s aftermath.
“Our entire leadership team and our entire airline is focused on learning from this event,” Kirby said.
Shares of United have tumbled 3% since the incident, erasing $673 million in market value.