DALLAS United Airlines moved to staunch criticism and any customer defections by reaching a settlement Thursday with a passenger dragged off one of its planes two weeks ago and issuing new policies designed to prevent similar customer-service failures. On April 9, Kentucky physician David Dao was forcibly removed from a flight after refusing to give up his seat to a crew member. The incident ignited a debate about poor service and a lack of customer-friendly policies on U.S. airlines. United and lawyers for Dao declined to disclose financial terms of the settlement Thursday. Earlier, United announced steps it would take to reduce overbooking of flights. Among other things, the airline said it will raise the limit on payments to customers who give up seats on oversold flights to $10,000, and it will improve training of employees.
Dao s lead attorney, Thomas Demetrio, praised the airline and its CEO, Oscar Munoz, for accepting responsibility and not blaming others, including the city of Chicago, whose airport security officers yanked Dao from his seat and dragged him off the United Express plane. Dao never filed a lawsuit against United, but Demetrio had said legal action was likely. Dao was waiting to fly to Louisville, Kentucky, an April 9 when the airline decided it needed four seats for Republic Airline crew members who needed to travel to work another United Express flight in Louisville the next morning. When Dao and his wife were selected for bumping, he refused to leave.
Video of the incident has sparked more than two weeks of withering criticism and mockery of United. Munoz initially blamed Dao, but later said he was horrified by the event and called it a failure on United s part. On Thursday, United released a report on the incident that outlined new policies to prevent a repeat. The airline vowed to reduce, but not eliminate, overbooking the selling of more tickets than there are seats on the plane. United won t say whether ticket sales have dropped, but the airline s CEO acknowledged the Dao incident could be damaging.
I breached public trust with this event and how we responded, Oscar Munoz said. People are upset, and I suspect that there are a lot of people potentially thinking of not flying us.
To head off customer defections, United had already announced that it will no longer call police to remove passengers from overbooked flights, and will require airline crews traveling for work to check in sooner. On Thursday, it added several other new policies including:
Raising the limit on compensation to $10,000 for customers who give up their seats starting Friday. That is a maximum it s unclear how many, if any, passengers would see that much. The current limit is $1,350. Delta Air Lines earlier this month raised its limit to $9,950. Sending displaced passengers or crew members to nearby airports, putting them on other airlines or arranging for car transportation to get them to their destinations. Giving gate agents annual refresher training in dealing with oversold flights. Munoz said he also wants agents and flight attendants to get more help at de-escalating tense situations.
While not a factor in this month s incident, United also said that starting in June it will pay customers $1,500 with no questions asked if the airline loses their bag. For United, the timing of the viral video could hardly have been worse. The airline struggled badly after a 2010 merger with Continental, enduring several technology breakdowns that angered customers. In the past year, however, the airline has flown more on-time flights and lost fewer bags. It recently rolled out plans for expanding service this summer. Instead of being commended for those signs of progress, United has been pilloried. Munoz apologized again and faulted his own initial response, in which he defended airline employees and called Dao belligerent.
United said it will reduce overbooking, particularly on flights with a poor track record of finding volunteers to give up their seats, but won t end the practice.
On Thursday, Southwest Airlines announced plans to stop overbooking flights, citing the United incident as a catalyst.
When Rep. Luis Gutierrez first arrived in Congress years ago, a Capitol Hill security guard stopped him. She didn t believe he was a member of Congress.
“I showed her my ID and she wasn t convinced,” he says on this week s episode of Majority Minority, a McClatchy podcast hosted by William Douglas and Franco Ordonez.
“There were a couple of little Puerto Rican flags involved in this, he says. They became unfurled as they went through the X-Ray machine, and she was very upset. A little too upset.”
On the podcast, Gutierrez talks about how he went from being one of the first Latinos to endorse Barack Obama for president to one of the first to brand him as the “deporter-in-chief” over his immigration policies.
“It impacted (us) greatly now we weren t friendly with one another,” he says. “It was tough. And it s tough standing up to a friend.”
Gutierrez, a 13-term Democrat from Chicago, opens up about his relationship with the former president, about the prospects of getting a comprehensive immigration overhaul under President Donald Trump. He recalls what it was like growing up in two cultures American and Puerto Rican and the struggle to be accepted in both.
“I always felt I was too Puerto Rican to be American and then when I went to Puerto Rico I was absolutely too American to be Puerto Rican – kind of caught in this middle,” he recalls. Gutierrez has been in the forefront in Congress in pursuing changes in the nation s immigration laws that could provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people currently living in the United States illegally. He was a member of the so-called “Gang of 8,” a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives that tried and failed to craft a comprehensive immigration restructuring that could get through Congress.
Gutierrez thought he found a kindred spirit on immigration in Obama, who made reshaping the country s immigration laws a key issue in his 2008 presidential campaign. But he sensed shortly after the 2008 election that Obama was moving away from his campaign vow to make immigration a priority.
“I went to see him while he was in his transition period and I said immigration reform and he says can t do it, we re bleeding hundreds of thousand, some months we re bleeding a million jobs, Luis, we can t do it. Why don t you come back in April, ” Gutierrez says. “I took that as a sign that he wasn t going to keep his promise. And I was right. In this episode, Gutierrez:
Discusses the immigration differs under Trump than Obama.
Talks about how living in Puerto Rico helped shape his ethnic identify and ignited his interest in politics.
Recalls how he infuriated fellow Capitol Hill lawmakers in 1993 with his successful crusade to require them to be subjected to the same pay freeze levied against other federal workers.
The union representing Chicago’s airport police officers moved Wednesday to halt the city’s effort to rebrand them as members of a security force signs of a battle that is emerging as aviation police are under internal review and outside investigation in the wake of the United Airlines passenger dragging incident. Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents 292 officers who work at O’Hare International and Midway airports, filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The union contended the city is moving “to strip the aviation officers of their authority as special police officers” and asked the board to order the city not to make any changes to the officers’ “duties or symbols of authority” until it gives the union notice and “a full opportunity to bargain over proposed changes.”
Union spokesman Adam Rosen said that without the word “police,” airport users won’t understand the officers have full police powers. He said that Aviation Department workers on Friday began replacing the word “police” on airport cars used by officers with the word “security.” Officers also were told changes may be made to their badges, he said. A carefully crafted statement from the Aviation Department said it is simply “reinforcing our existing policies.” Department “policy has long been clear that while aviation security officers are an integral part of our airport security and operations, that they do not have the same authority as sworn Chicago Police officers,” the statement said.
Whether they should be considered cops or security came up two weeks ago at a City Council hearing looking into the April 9 incident, when an aviation officer forcibly removed a bloodied Dr. David Dao of Kentucky from a United plane to make way for an airline employee. Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, noted the word “police” was on the back of the officer’s jacket and asked Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans if officers had been told to instead identify as security. Evans said that order was communicated in January. Aviation officers are certified police officers, complete with Chicago Police Academy training, and have all the powers of sworn Chicago Police Department officers, the union contends. Aviation officers are not allowed to carry guns, however.
During the council hearing, city officials said aviation officers had the authority to detain people, but it was up to Police Department officers to make an arrest. Aldermen took pains during the hearing to call them security officers, in a couple of instances correcting themselves after first calling them police.
The Aviation Department is reviewing the United case. City Inspector General Joseph Ferguson also is conducting an investigation that could result in recommendations for discipline or firing of the officers involved. Three aviation officers involved have been suspended, as has one sergeant, city documents show.
Chicago Tribune’s John Byrne contributed.