United Airlines CEO Makes Promises as Apology Tour Hits Good Morning America

Good Morning America

United Airlines CEO gave what he says will be his only TV interview April 12, 2017 to ABC News about the bumping incident that occurred a few days earlier. Pictured is Munoz in October 2015. Good Morning America

Skift Take: From a public relations perspective, United CEO Munoz had to get out there on TV so the public could view his remorse. Written statements wouldn’t suffice. He’s now saying a lot of the right things.

— Dan Peltier

Amid one of the worst public relations disasters in United Airlines’ history, CEO Oscar Munoz said the incident in Chicago represented a system failure and pledged the airline won’t use law enforcement to remove booked, paid and seated passengers from aircraft in the future.

Munoz sat down with ABC News’ Rebecca Jarvis Wednesday in Chicago and part of the interview appeared on Good Morning America. This was Munoz’s first interview since the incident on Sunday (watch the interview below).

Had United employees been more empowered to use their common sense, the incident could have been prevented, Munoz said. “We have not provided our frontline supervisors and managers and individuals with the proper tools, policies and procedures that allow them to use their common sense,” he said. “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 and I think that’s something we can do.”

Munoz issued another apology about the incident after initially downplaying it earlier in the week. “My initial words fell short of expressing something that we were truly feeling and that’s something that I’ve learned from. I do look forward to a time as much as I am able to apologize directly to him [Dr. David Dao] for what’s happened.”

Asked what the doctor deserves in the aftermath of the incident, Munoz said, “Certainly an apology and from that point on we’ll have to see.”

The incident, which involved passenger Dao being dragged off a plane by law enforcement when he refused to give up his seat for United employees who needed to get in place to staff another flight, has prompted a “deep and thorough review of a lot of our policies that support this,” Munoz said.

“Specifically, the use of law enforcement aboard an aircraft has to be looked at very carefully,” he said. “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 must absolutely look at.”

Later in the interview, Munoz said United would not use law enforcement officers to remove booked and seated passengers, noting that cops should be reserved for safety issues.

When asked why it took Munoz nearly three days after the incident to appear more apologetic, he said his first reaction is to understand the facts and circumstances. “It’s not so much what I thought as what I felt, probably the word ashamed comes to mind,” he said. “That is not who our family at United is. You saw us at a bad moment and this can and will never happen on a United Airlines flight. That’s my premise and that’s my promise.”

Besides reevaluating law enforcement on aircraft, United will also look at its incentive program when flights are overbooked. “There is an incentive program that works pretty well outside of the gate,” said Munoz. “Clearly, when you get into an airplane and you’re boarded and seated your incentive model needs to change and I think that’s one of the policies that we’ll look at. We do empower our frontline folks to a degree.”

Munoz said he hasn’t spoken directly the doctor who was dragged off the plane but said United has attempted to contact him several times and insisted the passenger isn’t at fault and that “no one should be treated like that, period.”

Resigning from his CEO role isn’t something Munoz has considered because of this incident, he said. “I was hired to make United better and we’ve been doing that and that’s what I’ll continue to do,” he said.

United is conducting an internal review of the incident and its policies, and the airline has said it will release the results of its review by April 30.


Ryan Wolkov

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Author: Ryan Wolkov

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