United Airlines CEO says 'this will never happen again' in first interview since doctor dragged off plane

Oscar Munoz calls incident a ‘system failure’ and says staff could have solved it with ‘common sense’

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The Independent Online

United Airlines will review its use of law enforcement officers to remove passengers from overbooked planes, its chief executive has promised, saying “this can never, will never, happen again” after a doctor was forcibly ejected from one of its flights.

Oscar Munoz said the incident in which David Dao was dragged, bloodied and screaming, from his seat by Chicago airport security officers was a “system failure”. “That’s on me,” he added.

The incident caused widespread anger, with much of it stemming from Dr Dao’s status as a paying passenger who was being removed to make room for additional crew members on the overbooked flight.

“The use of law enforcement aboard an aircraft has to be looked at very carefully“, Mr Munoz said, speaking to ABC News in his first interview on the controversy. “They’re clearly there for a purpose of safety, and we want to make sure they protect us, but for other reasons I think that’s a policy we have to absolutely re-look at,” he said.

“We’re not going to put a law enforcement official ... to remove a booked, paid, seated passenger ... We can’t do that.”

Speaking about the airline’s staff, Mr Munoz said: “We have not provided our front-line supervisors and managers and individuals with the proper tools, policies, procedures, that allow them to use their common sense.

“They all have an incredible amount of common sense, and this issue could have been solved by that. That’s on me, I have to fix that.”

An online petition calling for Mr Munoz to step down as CEO had more than 45,000 signatures by Wednesday, but he told ABC that he had no plans to resign over the incident.

Shares of United Continental were about flat in morning trading. They had fallen as much as 4.4 per cent on Tuesday.

The backlash from the incident resonated around the world, with social media users in the United States, China and Vietnam calling to boycott the US airline.

On China’s Sina Weibo, #UnitedAirlinesforcespassengeroffplane was still pinned as one of the most talked-about topics on the microblogging site’s front page.

As of Wednesday, Dr Dao was still in a Chicago hospital from injuries he sustained when airport security snatched him from his seat aboard United Flight 3411 to Louisville, Kentucky, his lawyer said.

“Currently, [Dr Dao and his family] are focused only on Dr Dao’s medical care and treatment,” Chicago-based lawyer Stephen Golan said.

In a letter to employees on Tuesday Mr Munoz “deeply” apologised for the incident, in which Dr Dao was removed from his seat because a United employee needed to use it.

Mr Munoz said he had apologised to the passenger and his family and added United will conduct a “thorough” review of a number of its policies.

Video of the incident sparked outcry on social media, spurring some users to call for a boycott of the airline. Many wondered whether Dr Dao was unfairly targeted for his race.

Passengers were offered first $400 and later $800 to give up their seats, but when too few people volunteered they became selected by the airline at random. Chicago airport security officers were called in when the man was chosen to leave but refused to.