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United Airlines CEO apologises, fiasco to be investigated by US authorities

UPDATE: United Airlines CEO says: "I promise you we will do better."

UPDATE: Oscar Munoz, the chief executive of embattled United Airlines (UA) unequivocally apologised for an incident in which a passenger was dragged off a plane, and promised a thorough review of the airline’s practices.

The apology came after a torrent of criticism of the carrier’s action on a flight Sunday and its initial explanation of it.

“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,”  Mr Munoz said.

“I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.

The comments were in stark contrast to the company’s initial response, in which it seemed to at least partially blame the passenger, inflaming worldwide outrage.

US media published an e-mail Mr Munoz sent earlier to employees, in which he said the passenger “defied” authorities and “compounded” the incident.

Below is the full statement as posted on United.com

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

Despite accusations of perceived racism and calls for a boycott UA had insisted that it had not done anything wrong.

Mr Munoz had said that while he was upset about what happened, that he supported his employees and that he regretted the situation but did not immediately apologise for the way the passenger was manhandled after he refused to get off the flight so that his seat could be taken by UA staff members.

The incident happened on Sunday at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on a flight bound for Louisville, Kentucky.

In video clips posted on Facebook and Twitter, three security officers are seen huddling over the seated passenger before grabbing him aggressively.

The man, later identified as Dr David Dao, was then seen being dragged down the aisle on his back by his hands, body limp, bleeding from the mouth, glasses askew and shirt pulled up above his navel as other passengers shouted, "Oh my God", and, "Look what you did to him".

He could also be heard telling United staff that he was a doctor and had to return to Louisville to attend to his patients.

In a letter to United employees, seen by news outlets, Mr Munoz said: "The 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."

He added that the passenger, when asked to leave, had "raised his voice and refused to comply", and "became more and more disruptive and belligerent".

The airline said that no passengers agreed to voluntarily give up their seats for airline employees who were needed for shifts in Louisville.

Four passengers were then selected to leave the plane, but one of them refused.

ON LEAVE

The Chicago Department of Aviation said one of the officers did not follow protocol and had been placed on leave pending a review for actions not condoned by the department.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) said it was 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 spokesman said.

In Singapore, airlines told The Straits Times that they take a much more conservative approach to overbooking than airlines in the US and would bump off passengers with compensation at the check-in counter rather than make them deplane after boarding.

Many social media users criticised United for how it had handled the situation.

"Apologise for saying you 'had to' do this. There were other options and you know it," user @TessaDare wrote in a series of posts retweeted thousands of times.

"Apologise for creating and allowing a corporate culture that says it's okay to treat passengers with such disregard and disdain."

Other social media users questioned whether the man would have been removed as forcefully had he not been Asian.

Outrage erupted on Chinese social media, with the topic attracting more than 130 million views on the Weibo platform by yesterday afternoon, Reuters reported.

Many users focused on comments from a fellow passenger reported in the Washington Post, who said the man dragged off the plane said he was "being selected because I'm Chinese".

Typical comments also included calls to boycott United, including from high-profile users such as comedian Joe Wong, and Mr Liu Qiangdong, founder of e-commerce giant JD.com.

"This makes me recall the nightmare experiences I had the three times I flew with United Airlines," Mr Liu told his more than 3 million followers. "United's service is definitely the worst in the world!"

UK's Daily Mail has identified the passenger as 69-year-old grandfather David Dao, a Vietnamese-American who specialises in internal medicine.

His wife Teresa, 69, is a paediatrican, and four of their five children are also doctors.

FOR MORE, SEE:  It's legal, but there are better ways than using brute force

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