United Airlines’ chief executive has said he will not quit amid an explosive backlash to video of a screaming man being dragged off a plane.
Oscar Munoz said he felt “shame and embarrassment” and vowed it would never happen again to a seated passenger on one of United’s overbooked aircraft.
The embattled aviation boss said the passenger in question, David Dao, deserved “certainly an apology”. Mr Munoz had initially described Mr Dao as “disruptive and belligerent”.
“That shame and embarrassment was pretty palpable for me and for a lot of our family,” the contrite chief executive told ABC’s Good Morning America programme.
Asked if he would stand down, Mr 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.”
Mr Dao was pulled off Sunday evening’s flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, because the flight was fully booked, and the airline wanted to get four passengers to leave to make room for four staff members.
After Mr Dao refused to leave the plane, law enforcement officials dragged him out, and Mr Dao was left bloodied by the confrontation.
The footage provoked international outrage and the Dao family has issued a statement expressing gratitude for the “outpouring of support”.
“This can never, will never happen again on a United Airlines flight,” said Mr Munoz in Wednesday morning’s television interview.
He was asked what the company would do in future if a seated passenger refused voluntarily to leave an overbooked plane based on the airline’s compensation offer.
“We’re not going to put a law enforcement official to take them off,” he said. “To remove a booked, paid seated passenger, we can’t do that.”
One of the aviation security officers involved in removing Mr Dao from the plane has been “placed on leave”, the Chicago Department of Aviation said, and his actions were “obviously not condoned by the department”.
Mr Munoz was asked if Mr Dao, who has been undergoing treatment at a Chicago hospital, was at fault.
The chief executive paused. He said: “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.”
On Monday, Mr Munoz said Mr Dao’s conduct meant employees were “left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight”.
The US Department of Transportation is reviewing whether United complied with rules on overbooking.
United’s parent company’s share price plummeted on Tuesday. On Tuesday, stock in United Continental Holdings dropped by more than 4% with nearly $1bn (£800m) wiped off its value, but the price later recovered to end the day down 1%.