CHICAGO — United Airlines' CEO has apologized a day after videos of a man being dragged out of a plane generated international controversy.
CEO Oscar Munoz came under fire for his own responses to the incident, which was caught in several videos that went viral around the world. Munoz had described the flight's passengers as being "re-accommodate[d]" and, in a letter to employees, said the man was "disruptive and belligerent" and said employees had "followed established procedures."
But in a public apology shared by United on Tuesday, Munoz changed his tone, apologizing for what happened, describing the incident as "truly horrific" and saying United took responsibility.
"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," Munoz wrote in the statement. "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."
Meanwhile, the man who was dragged off the plane was identified as Dr. David Dao. His attorney, Stephen Golan of Chicago, released a statement Tuesday thanking all the people who expressed concern over Dao, who is at a Chicago hospital.
"The family of Dr. Dao wants the world to know that they are very appreciative of the outpouring of prayers, concern and support they have received. Currently, they are focused only on Dr. Dao's medical care and treatment," the statement said.
Viral videos of the Sunday incident show officers pulling the man from his chair and dragging him out by his arms. Other videos show the man's mouth, chin and cheek smeared with blood.
The airline asked four passengers to leave the plane voluntarily because they were overbooked and had four nonworking crew members who needed to fly to Louisville, said travelers who wrote about the incident online. No one volunteered to give up a seat, so the airline said a computer would randomly select four people to be removed, a passenger reported.
The man was among those selected, but he told airline employees he was a doctor and needed to go home to see patients in the morning, according to passenger accounts.
That's when the man was dragged off the plane, according to the passengers.
Other videos show the man returning and walking up the plane's aisle, saying, "I have to go home. I have to go home."
Two videos show the man bleeding and clutching a curtain in the aisle while saying, "Just kill me. Kill me."
The man was removed from the plane, and the flight left. He was taken to Lutheran General Hospital and received treatment for his injuries.
Later, a Chicago Aviation Department security officer who helped remove the man from the plane was suspended "pending a thorough review," officials said. He has not been named by the department.
“The incident on United flight 3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure, and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the Department,” said Karen Pride, a spokeswoman for the Aviation Department, in an emailed statement.
Munoz and United faced sharp criticism Monday after the airline released a statement describing what happened as passengers being "re-accommodate[d]."
"We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation," Munoz said in the statement.
But after that, Munoz sent a letter to employees and said crew members "were left with no choice but to call Chicago aviation security officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight," according to CNBC.
"I emphatically stand behind all of you," Munoz wrote in the internal memo.
According to United's "Contract of Carriage," or set of policies: "If a flight is oversold, no one may be denied boarding against his/her will until UA or other carrier personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservations willingly in exchange for compensation as determined by UA. If there are not enough volunteers, other passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with UA’s boarding priority."
Those who are the least likely to be denied boarding or deplaned due to overbooking are children traveling alone and passengers with disabilities. Other factors considered by the airline when deciding who to remove include: a "passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment.
— Tyler Bridges (@Tyler_Bridges) April 10, 2017
United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. pic.twitter.com/rF5gNIvVd0— United (@united) April 10, 2017
@WHAS11 Kids were crying people are disturbed. Also after being removed the bloodied man somehow ran back on the plane repeating-I have to get home— Tyler Bridges (@Tyler_Bridges) April 10, 2017
@USAnonymous Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave ^MD— United (@united) April 10, 2017