United Airlines staff will no longer take seats of passengers who have boarded plane

Rob Crilly
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz  - AP

United Airlines says it is ending the practice of bumping passengers from flights after they have boarded in order to give seats to staff accommodate staff, following international outrage at the violent removal of a customer last Sunday.

The airline is overhauling its policies and reviewing the circumstances that led up to the forcible removal of David Dao, a 69-year-old doctor, from an overbooked flight.

Camera phone footage captured the heavy handed approach of security officers who dragged Dr Dao from his seat. He had two of his teeth knocked out, broke his nose and suffered concussion, according to his lawyer.

Now United says it will require employees seeking a seat to book it at least an hour before departure.

An internal memo, obtained by TMZ, said the change was so that seats could be made available before passengers had boarded the plane.

Had the rule been in place last Sunday, United Express Flight 3411 still would have been overbooked by four seats, but United employees could have dealt with the situation in the gate area of Chicago O’Hare airport instead of on the plane.

Maggie Schmerin, a spokeswoman, said: “We issued an updated policy to make sure crews travelling on our aircraft are booked at least 60 minutes prior to departure.

“This is one of our initial steps in a review of our policies.”

United also says it is reviewing its compensation policies.

After the incident in Chicago, critics wondered why the airline didn't offer more money when no passengers accepted the airline's $800 offer for volunteers to give up their seats.

A video screengrab shows passenger David Dao being dragged off a United Airlines flight at Chicago O'Hare International Airport 

“If you offer enough money, even the guy going to a funeral will sell his seat,” said Ross Aimer, a retired United pilot.

The airline’s handling of the incident attracted widespread condemnation. In the aftermath of the confrontation senior executives were accused of not recognising the damage done and of making matters worse.

Oscar Munoz, United Airlines chief executive, issued a statement apologising “for having to re-accomodate” customers and sent an internal message to staff which appeared to blame Dr Dao for failing to comply with a polite request to move.

A day later, with his company’s stock price plummeting, he was forced to try again.

“I continue to be disturbed by what happened. I deeply apologise to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard,” he said.

United Airlines - worst PR disasters gallery

 

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