United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz is still frantically managing the fallout from a video that went viral Monday showing Chicago Department of Aviation Officers stationed at O’Hare Airport boarding a flight and forcefully removing a passenger. The optics of the video are so bad that it spread quickly across social media and public outrage came fast and furious. It even hit Wall Street, which felt the outrage earthquake and saw United’s stock price dropped nearly four points on Tuesday. Munoz, himself, was forced to make several additional apologies after the company’s first attempts failed. He even appeared on Good Morning America on Wednesday morning to continue his apology tour. It was during that interview when he suggested the use of law enforcement to remove passengers is unlikely to occur again on United flights.
As we later found out, the man removed the the flight was reportedly a 69-year-old doctor who had a ticket for the flight. During the interview, Munoz mentioned one item that really jumped out regarding how they might handle the next hostile passenger in the future. Specifically, he said one policy the airline plans to change is the use of law enforcement personnel to remove passengers from his company’s airliners.
“[T]he use of law enforcement onboard an aircraft has to be looked at very carefully,” Munoz said, before acknowledging that they are usually there for the purpose of safety. But he then reiterated his desire to see that policy reviewed. He said current company policy does not allow employees or crew to “use their common sense” and that had that occurred here, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.
He was then directly asked what United would do the next time a passenger refused to voluntarily disembark from an aircraft. Before the question was even all the way finished, Munoz jumped in and said,”We are not going to put a law enforcement official to take them off the aircraft.” The interviewer then attempted to clarify he statement, asking if he meant no law enforcement officer would ever board a United flight to remove a passenger. Munoz replied, “To remove a booked, paid, seating passenger? We can’t do that.”
The line of questioning moved on during the remainder of the interview, but his response about the use of police really raises more questions that it answers. For example, what happens when a booked, ticketed passenger becomes unruly and refuses to leave a flight? If police officers will not be used, does that mean it is all up to the crew? Or will United employ private security to handle these situations? We reached out to the airline and have not received a reply.
We will update this story further when we hear back from aviation attorneys.
[image via screengrab]