(Reuters) – United Airlines <UAL.N> and its chief executive faced mounting pressure on Tuesday from a worldwide backlash over its treatment of a passenger who was dragged from his seat on a plane on Sunday to make room for four employees on the overbooked flight.
Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz said the company would not use law enforcement officers to remove overbooked passengers from aircraft. Munoz told ABC News that the problem resulted from a “system failure” that prevented employees from using “common sense” in the situation. He said he had no plans to resign over the incident that has drawn condemnation around the world. Munoz profusely apologized to the passenger, his family, passengers, the airline’s customers. “This can never, will never happen again,” he said.
Lawyers for the passenger, Dr. David Dao, issued a statement late on Tuesday confirming his identity and saying that he and his family were “focused only on Dr. Dao’s medical care and treatment” in a Chicago hospital.
The U.S. Department of Transportation launched an inquiry into the incident, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called for new rules to curb the airline practice of overbooking flights.
Munoz issued a statement on Tuesday apologizing to Dao without naming him. “I’m sorry. We will fix this,” Munoz said. “I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.”
On Monday, Munoz issued a memo to employees defending the company but not apologizing to the passenger.
Munoz, a former railroad executive who took over the helm at United in 2015, had already been under pressure from activist investors to improve the airline’s performance, including its customer relations.
Video showing Dao being yanked from his seat by airport security Sunday evening and dragged from United Airlines Flight 3411 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport went viral and sparked global outrage.
An online petition calling for Munoz to step down had nearly 22,000 signatures by early Tuesday evening.
On Chinese social media, the incident attracted the attention of more than 480 million users on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.
United has about 20 percent of total U.S.-China airline traffic and has a partnership with Air China, the country’s third-largest airline, according to analysts. It flies to more Chinese cities than any other U.S. carrier. Last year, United added nonstop flights from San Francisco to Hangzhou, its fifth destination in mainland China… see more