House committee grills United over Dao; CEO Munoz apologizes

on May2

2 May 2017 | 2:33 pm

A contrite United Airlines CEO appeared before a House committee on Tuesday to take responsibility for the customer-service failure that led to a bloodied passenger being dragged off a jet at O’Hare Airport.

“This is on me,” Oscar Munoz told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He was joined by United’s president, Scott Kirby.

“It was a mistake of epic proportions in hindsight,” Munoz said later. The airline last week announced it had reached a settlement with the passenger, Dr. David Dao of Kentucky.

The hearing was called after a series of incidents that started with the United fiasco on April 9 at O’Hare, but also included a confrontation between an American Airlines flight attendant and passenger, a Delta passenger being kicked off an airplane for using the bathroom during a 30-minute wait on the tarmac to take off, and the death of a giant rabbit on a United flight from London to O’Hare.

Complaints about airline treatment and the United debacle let House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R- Pa., to warn at the start: “This won’t be a pleasant hearing.”

The state of air travel was summed up by William J. McGee, travel and aviation consultant for Consumers Union, who also appeared at the hearing: “Consumers are at the mercy of powerful airlines.”

At the hearing, in reply to questions about overbooking and bumping policies, Southwest Airlines Executive Vice President Bob Jordan said they bounce passengers from an overbooked flight based on who arrived last at the gate; United, in contrast, has bounced seated passengers based on the fare they paid and their level in the airline’s frequent-flyer program.

In the case of the Dao incident, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., told Munoz “you made your problem your customer’s problem … putting the solution on the customer.”

Replied Munoz: “Could not agree with you more.”

An American Airlines executive also offered an apology — this one for an incident in which a male flight attendant upset a female passenger to the point of tears, then got into a heated confrontation with a male passenger who tried to come to the woman’s defense.

Kerry Philipovitch, a senior vice president of American, said the incident was improperly handled and is being investigated. Video of the incident has circulated widely on social media. Philipovitch said at Tuesday’s hearing that the airline “should have helped” the passenger handle the extra-wide stroller and put it away safely.

The incident occurred April 21 on a flight from San Francisco to Dallas, two weeks after a passenger on a United Airlines flight was forcibly removed from a plane in Chicago.

Contributing: Associated Press

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