Following an international wave of outrage against United Airlines after a passenger was forcibly removed from a flight to make space for crew members needing transport to another airport, embattled CEO Oscar Munoz sat down with “Good Morning America” for his first interview since the Sunday evening incident.
Speaking to ABC’s chief business and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis, Munoz revealed that he felt ashamed and embarrassed when he first saw video footage of passenger Dr. David Dao being wrestled out of his seat and dragged bleeding down the aisle after resisting aviation security officers.
An emotional Munoz said, “The first thing I think is important to say is to apologize to Dr. Dao, his family, the passengers on that flight, our customers, our employees. That is not who our family at United is.”
His tone stood in stark contrast to an internal memo he sent employees praising how they handled the incident with “a belligerent and disruptive passenger.”
“You saw us at a bad moment. This can never — will never — happen again on a United Airlines flight. That’s my premise and that’s my promise,” Munoz stated.
Asked why his tone had become so apologetic only now, Munoz replied with long, dramatic pauses, “My initial words fell short of totally expressing what we were feeling. And that’s something that I’ve learned from.”
He added that every airline policy related to this situation would be reviewed, especially the use of law enforcement officers in pulling someone off a flight.
“What went wrong in this scenario?” Jarvis asked.
“It was a system failure,” Munoz replied. “We have not provided our frontline 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.”
In the case of Sunday’s flight, passengers were offered $400 then $800 and a hotel stay if they would volunteer to leave the flight. None did. United’s fine print states that passengers don’t have to be given any compensation for being removed from a flight for any reason.
“Were those employees of United...not enabled to offer people more money [than $800] to voluntarily leave that flight?” Jarvis asked.
Munoz danced around her question, saying that would need to be looked into, especially because it’s much harder to get passengers to voluntarily leave a flight after they’re already seated in the plane.
Jarvis continued, “In the future, if no one voluntarily decides to leave a plane based on the amount of money United is offering, will United—”
“We are not going to put a law enforcement official to take them off,” Munoz interrupted.
“A law enforcement official will never come on one of your planes again?” Jarvis asked.
“To remove a booked, paid, seating passenger,” Munoz clarified. “We can’t do that.”
Munoz says he’s tried to contact Dr. Dao but hasn’t been able to get a hold of him yet to apologize directly to him.
“Do you think he’s at fault in any way,” Jarvis asked.
Munoz replied after a very long pause, “No. He can’t be. He was a paying passenger sitting on our seat in our aircraft. And no one should be treated that way. Period.”
Asked if he had considered abiding by calls for his resignation, Munoz said, “No. I was hired to make United better. And we’ve been doing that. And that’s what I’ll continue to do.”
Munoz has been CEO of United Airlines since Sept. 2015.
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