CEO Oscar Munoz Is Making United’s Problem With the Doctor Dragged Off a Flight Even Worse

In laying out what happened on the United Express flight headed from Chicago to Louisville last night, I’ve largely felt that United was doing its best under a set of bad circumstances.

  • They had to get 4 crew members to Louisville to operate a flight the next day.

  • They offered voluntary denied boarding compensation up to $800, a hotel night, and re-accommodation the next day.

  • When there weren’t takers at that price, they asked 4 passengers to get off the plane.

Passengers who are involuntarily denied boarding are generally entitled to cash compensation, in this case 4 times the cost of their ticket up to $1350.

United CEO Oscar Munoz in Chicago

It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but if they didn’t want to fly the next day an Uber should have been about $300 (and a four and a half hour drive).

We don’t know exactly what transpired from the time the customer was asked and refused to leave. Three officers were called, and ultimately dragged the man on the ground off the aircraft and bloodied him in the process.

Without access to video and audio of what happened leading up to this, I cannot say for sure, although my hunch is that the officers could have managed the situation less confrontationally so that it didn’t come to this. In assessing blame between United, the officers, and the passenger my guess is that United is the least to blame here.

United CEO Oscar Munoz Cutting the Ribbon on the Airline’s First New Boeing 777-300ER

But once the incident did occur, the airline’s response has been asinine.

Here’s their statement attributed to United’s CEO Oscar Munoz apologizing that customers had to be re-accommodated — as opposed to being shocked, angry, or disappointed that a customer was dragged off and bloodied.

United flight 3411.

That’s the exact wrong way to go with this. When a crisis event happens, don’t run from it run towards it so critics have nowhere to go.

Munoz shouldn’t say the customer was inconvenienced, he should say it was a terrible, horrible experience. He shouldn’t say it’s upsetting, he’s angry and he’s going to get to the bottom of it. Be active. Show actual concern, don’t be mealy mouthed.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’ll never fly with you guys again! After what just happen! And all you guys can say we are looking into it. This man was humiliated not just cause of a seat due to his race!! As a black person that travels a lot you guys will be over look when it comes to flying anywhere I go. With all the money you guys have have a plane for you’re works that needs to be elsewhere or just use common sense and stop over booking. I don’t care I know me and family and friends will not be flying you guys ever again.

  2. Increase the compensation to $3000 and someone gets off the plane. It’s a small cost for a rare situation. United is TOTALLY culpable. There is zero doubt that the situation could have been averted at the right cost…this makes United culpable since they chose to overbook the flight. The fact that this man’s injuries could have been avoided makes United culpable. United called security in over cost so that decision is on them

  3. This is the past repeating it’s self.

    Volunteer to join the military or be arrested for avoiding the draft.
    Volunteer to get off or be forced to get off.

    Do it or be shot sort of mentality?

  4. I think the bottom-line issue here is that a passenger who bought a ticket was beat up and forcibly dragged from a plane in order to accommodate 4 crew members. That is morally wrong, whether or not legal.

    I cannot agree that United had no other alternative, and that if they offered $800, they could not offer more, or hire a car service or somehow else transport their crew.

    Deeper than that, I think that what is truly shocking here is that we expect major corporations to act as the mature, sophisticated actors they are supposed to be. The idea that a company can react with vicious violence to non-violent resistance, especially when they are in the wrong is, to me, horrifying. (Regardless of the legality of overbooking, I think most would agree that it is morally wrong to throw someone with a confirmed seat off an aircraft).

    We expect violent people to be met with state violence. We do not expect peaceful citizens who are fundamentally right to be brutalized by the state, acting at the behest of a corporation.

  5. 100% blame to United by not offering reasonable compensation in the first place. They absolutely could have gotten volunteers. $800 is not enough to get someone with a job off the plane. Since they were obligated by law to go to $1350 for IDB, why not go to $1,350 to START? I know, because its United and their completely incompetent, brand-destroying partner United Express.

    What kind of toxic corporate culture allows this to occur? The gate agents, the crew, everyone. they just stood by and watched this happen like its an everyday occurrence? Munoz needs to take a bullet for this one. Where is the United Board? I thought they were fed up with these shenanigans.

    As for Uber, my colleague took Uber from Columbus to Cleveland and from Cleveland to Detroit last week because Delta had their own meltdown. it was not a problem at all finding an Uber driver willing to do these runs for very reasonable costs. (Ie. Much less than flying)

  6. Gary,

    You need to re-assess what you consider wrong and right. United made a series of mistakes and situation was entirely foreseeable. United had complete control over the situation. This was not an overbooked flight. This was united not taking care of its customers. It is hardly least at fault. The passenger was wrong to refuse orders, but I understand the response. United does only restricted credits and $800 is not worth it. I was on a DL flight 2 weeks ago and the comp was $1500 in cash. People could not bump themselves fast enough. Hopefully united figures out a better policy for the situation. What a messed up company!

  7. What’s Munoz’s home address? Maybe someone can pay him a visit to help him better understand the impact of this situation.

  8. United Airlines and its CEO should be ashamed for the barbaric and unconscionable treatment of a paying passenger. The fact that it was an effort to seat United Airlines employees on an overbooked flight just amplifies the offensive and unwarranted action the airline took to coddle its employees at the expense of a paying passenger. Not only was the action unbelievably offensive, it was an illegal assault on the passenger. I will never fly on United Airlines again. And, any reasonable person should demand the immediate removal of an CEO who would support the action of his employees in this unconscionable incident. SHAME ON YOU UNITED. You and your employees should been seen as nothing more than barbarians.

  9. This discussion could also be taken up personally with Michael Bonds, Brett Hart, Greg Hart, Linda Jojo, Chris Kenny, Scott Kirby, and Andy Levy.

  10. What would be proportional and appropriate punishment for United’s misbehavior?
    Drag the CEO out of his comfy position?

  11. Oscar Muñoz needs to be “re-accomodated.” Instead of a few hundred dollars, this is going to cost millions.

  12. United committed a criminal act and is now engaging in a criminal conspiracy coverup. Local news reports state the United crew was on stand-by. If it was so important for them to fly that night, they should have boarded first as I’ve seen other airlines do many many times, otherwise drive them to their destination. United used the police to solve a business dispute and this is something one sees in police states, not in the USA. They overtly abused the high security processes in effect that will result in reduced effectiveness as more and more people begin to fight back against the unfair and immoral behavior. This will make flying more uncomfortable for everyone else. I vote for the resignation of the CEO and the local employees going to jail.

  13. @Gary – I’m sure you feel like people are “misreading you”, but this is your statement that I believe most of us don’t agree with:

    “In assessing blame between United, the officers, and the passenger my guess is that United is the least to blame here”

    I honest to god don’t understand your logic on this.

    Passenger: As a doctor, might of had patients to see the next day – NOT getting on the flight might leave patients that are requiring medical attention high and dry. Is that not just as important as United getting their four personnel to Louisville so they don’t have to cancel their flight? Oh and forgot to mention – this guy had a ticket to be on the plane!!

    Officers: Sure, they used excessive force and did not follow protocol (based on latest reports).

    United: Has a right to kick off paying customers, who don’t take their low “compensation alternative”, all in the name of getting their four personnel to Louisville so they don’t have to cancel a flight. To simplify – United put their priorities ahead of paying customers who ALL may have had just as important a reason to be on that flight – regardless of the cost (i mean, all of them didn’t bite on an $800 option – does that tell you something)? How on earth do you think United is *least* to blame here? If United wasn’t so greedy (they didn’t even go up to the legal $1350 max or compensate above that, and they could of put the 4 personnel on southwest or whatever), the passenger wouldn’t have become so irate and law enforcement would of never been called in the first place.

    Please explain your logic here. FYI – your credibility is on the line.

  14. @David I do stand by that statement, I think United is handling the PR badly but the most blame falls on the police and how they dragged and bloodied the passenger.

  15. This is just bad management from the top down. The old adage that sh*t rolls down here is fitting; whenever you have to drag a paying customer away from what they paid for — regardless of whether its for a flight or not — there’s something very wrong with your company and, more importantly, the company’s culture. I know I’m mixing metaphors, but just the input from the group of miles hobbyists here would have made things better, and I’d guess most of us are not paid for our expertise. If I was a CEO I would be horrified at the way I’m treating my customers. I have to wonder if it’s complacency by the industry as a whole because they’ve been allowed to get away with so much for so long versus other service industries. Everyone at United from the CEO to the baggage handler, should be embarrassed at what took place.

  16. F*** United, hope they get their ass sued, Munoz gets fired or resigns, Chicago cops thugs too, hope their stick goes down the shitter

  17. Has Oscar Munoz ever been thrown off a flight? Can you imagine his large face bashed in if he refused? He should not be CEO. I will never patron United again. If they can do that to an old Asian guy, what will they do to others???!!!!

  18. Why would anyone be surprised. United agents have been acting like thuggish enforcers for years now and it’s clear there was no correction from the top, hell it probably came from the top. They are belligerent toward polite customers and if you then at their invitation turn impolite they tell you that you cannot say another word or you will be removed. This is something a facist says, or someone doing performance art would do to illustrate a thug and outrage the audience. It has become the norm.

    Then there’s the devaluation of Mileage Minus by 75% for average customers like myself who finally left after that insult after 40 years. They were so arrogant about it they told us to leave if we didn’t like it. We did.

    Now the bill comes due. At least a billion dollars in brand damage, possibly not recoverable. You earned every cent of it United. You’re out of business! Better not say another word or….

  19. @Gary – so please confirm – you are ok with United prioritizing their own staff, in the name of corporate profits, and removing paying customers who have ticketed seats for a flight, whenever they want? Or in other words, you agree that United’s needs are greater than the needs of customers who paid for flights (and presumably planned their lives assuming they would be on the flight)?

    You are ok with United kicking off passengers, WITHOUT first trying every way possible to incentive people to give up their seats in such a situation? In this situation, you are ok with United only going up to $800 – and then forcefully kicking people off without their permission?

    Since you are putting the onus on the police – you are implicitly saying you are FINE with all of these actions by United. How can you be an advocate for travelers like me with this belief system?

    I am a long-time premier 1k member and am blown away by these actions by United. Given your background and industry experience, I expected a more holistic perspective from you.

  20. After just reading that United CEO Oscar Munoz still defending his action, it’s clear that he feels no remorse for what he did. What a low life moron!

  21. Last time I was “re-accommodated” like this it was by a gang of bullies outside my grammar school in 1959. If United really gave a flying fig they wouldn’t hire thugs to solve their overbooking problems. That same $300 Uber could have held all four of the people they decided belatedly needed to co-opt the paying customers’ seats, at a net savings to the company of at least $800 plus whatever the good doctor will get out of them in an out-of-court settlement for their brutal racist attack. I have no sympathy with those who would condone this sort of atrocious misconduct as the least of the available evils. And I need hardly say that had I not already decided this carrier was riddled with incompetence over the leggings kerfuffle, this latest scandal is by itself enough to convince me never to patronize UA again.

  22. Despicable, inexcusable, and a red flag for everyone with important plans who must fly. Unbelievable disregard for passengers.

  23. First, isn’t it about time CEOs stopped getting rewarded for failure with huge bailout packages? Second, if you give CEOs millions of dollars per year for many years and give 10s of millions to them when they leave despite the poor performance of the company is the board incompetent or perhaps corrupt? Shareholder value? Well I see where that’s going… right in some CEOs pocket, isn’t it!

    Now, UA in the airline business. Are you telling me with they have never been able to afford a few small jets to get their crew and pilots off to wherever they need to be so they NEVER have to kick a customer off a plane?

    How long has it been that they’ve been over booking flights? How long? This is event is pa-the-tic!

  24. 100% disagree they were the LEAST in the wrong. If a passenger is entitled to up to $1,350 – why not offer that before going nuclear? Why board the plane/issue boarding tickets first before selecting those that needed to standby? Why not use an alternative method of getting the crew to the airport?

    This could have been diffused by United well before the man refused to leave or before the officers arrived!

  25. For some customers getting to their destination at a time is 100 times more important than $ 800.00.

  26. I really hope the CEO is fired. As someone who fly’s every week $800 is a joke if you really need to get passengers to give up their seat. The cost to them personally is more than this for a one day delay regardless of the cost of the flight. I cannot say I will never fly United as I unfortunately find myself as a frequent flyer in situations that I have to fly the best option BUT I swear with God as my witness I will never fly United if given a choice until their CEO is fired. I am amazed that this hasn’t gotten more attention. It is unbelievable and inexcusable. United is 100% at fault here.

  27. The fact that you think the passenger is more to blame than United is asinine.

    The passenger paid for the ticket, boarded the plane and was seated. He even offered to voluntarily accept a voucher until he realized he couldn’t get to Louisville until the next day, then he said no because he was a medical doctor and had to get to work the next day.

    United has a policy which says their crew can bump anyone off whenever they want.

    Why don’t you look at that policy as the source of the problem? United had a lot of things they could have done to handle this — the fact that anyone thinks the only logical way out was to forcibly kick a passenger out of his seat makes no sense.

  28. Wow. What a mess. I was appalled by the video, as I would have been equally appalled were I a passenger on that plane witnessing this. I don’t care if the man was really a doctor, and I hope he didn’t have patients to see.
    Unfortunately, Mr. Munoz has chosen to defend the employees. This perhaps comes from a good place, however misguided. As CEO, he has given effort to listen to employees, to help resolve grievances, and improve United’s poor customer service record, all of which have been effective. However, as a recent heart transplant patient himself, what if that ejected passenger were of a more delicate or health compromised position? Mr. Munoz should thank his lucky stars the passenger didn’t die during the ejection. I can only think United is trying to avoid liability. This is not over yet.

  29. I cannot believe this as I just took the United flight from SFO to Boston. It can happen to anyone on the plane after well seated! Give me a break the United CEO! Shame on you! You should be fired!!!!!

  30. Gary- you’re wrong on this. The pax is least at fault. United precipitated this whole affair on their own. If a getaway driver can be charged with murder when her accomplices are shot by their intended victim, then united is at fault for this man’s injuries regardless of what led up to it. And Munoz should probably go, if he doesn’t see that. That was not an apology

  31. United won’t care at all – unless the pubic outrage hurts them financially. United was ALREADY terrible – horrible customer service, repeatedly lost bags, rude in-flight crews, cramped and overbooked flights the norm, broken lights, broken sound systems and broken seat recliners on planes. How about hitting them where it hurts – let’s cancel our United credit cards.

  32. United is the least to blame in here? R u trying to make a joke or something? Untied is the main reason we should angry about. They kicked the customers out just for their own crew transportation. Is this the way how u treat customer? We got all kind of rules and obligations for taking a flight, and the airlines can simply just broke the deal with like it? And u r saying untied is the least should blame . Totally disagree

  33. BULLSHIT!!! The passenger was already boarded and seated. There’s no excuse for the way that he was treated.

  34. I am a New Zealand citizen and I once flew United. A “red eye” from Los Angeles to Boston and it was an OK experience, back in the early 1970’s. After what you guys did to the good Doctor on flight 4311 I don’t think I will consider flying with you again. Please remember two things:

    1) Your paying passengers are your lifeline.
    2) The very best advertising you can get is word-of-mouth and I reckon this is a dismal failure.

    Poor performance United.

  35. So many things wrong with what happened and CEO response and defense of staff adds insult to injury, literally. Tho guy was not a criminal or making threats. No reason to violently drag him off. He didn’t injure himself by falling onto armrest as airline claims. Video clearly shows he was slammed into armrest and floor, I’m disgusted by how he was treated simply for not wanting to leave a flight that he paid for. How is this accrued me simply because stupid airlines overbook?! It’s all about money, he clearly felt hecoykd not leave for whatever reason. He’s a doctor. What if someone was going home for surgery or a funeral or wedding? Would they be forced off? Why not move on if a passenger is this upset versus forcing him off? What if he didn’t clearly understand what was going on? In today’s world I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought he was being detained due to his race. What if it was someone hard of hearing or confused or emotionally unstable or what have you-you have no right resort to this barbaric treatment of paid customers because of your greedy ways of overbooking to make money and then you defend it as the CEO? I hate United more than ever, am disgusted and will never fly them again

  36. Boycott United they are criminals. They should be shut down. Maybe the CEO would understand if someone called in security to whoop his butt.

  37. United doing its best? Seriously? Their best was to wait till the flight was boarded and then go around asking for “voluntary” bump offs?
    As a thought experiment, lets imagine that Gary checks in to The Oberoi, Mumbai. The hotel has a sign outside saying “rights of entry reserved”.
    Gary has just checked in, and has headed in for a shower. While he is showering, a hotel staff knocks on the door, and tells Gary he has to check out as a hotel employee needs the room. Gary refuses. The hotel calls in the cops who assault Gary on the grounds of trespass.

    What would Gary do? Basis his support for United, one would hope that he would agree that he is in the wrong and that the hotel did everything in its power to help him.

    Gary, I used to visit your blog thrice a day. Why? As your writing style indicated that you understand what good service is. Sadly, it appears that good service is only reserved for those at the front of the plane, while poor sods like myself have to “volunteer” when the airline we are flying on fucks up.

  38. I was thinking to myself if Oscar apologized and accommodated and got to the very bottom of this whole ordeal then I would be okay with it but the wording he chose got me even more angry.

    “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers”. Really? Sounds like you are inconvenienced by this. Sounds much like “Ugh I am sooooo sorry I had to actually accommodate these whiny people.” Why are you sorry for accommodating? Think about those words Oscar. Accommodating is something you should do for a customer not apologize for.

  39. I don’t think Munoz’s apology sincere at all. this is a brutal incident to his clients because of his company’s mistake: overbooking. They should offer the doctor other airlines so that he can care for his patients, because the more money offering cannot compensate his care for his patients.

  40. The simple solution of United driving their employees only 250 miles was all that was needed. Bullies!

  41. United had no basis to remove the passenger. Munoz is citing United’s Contract of Carriage rule for involuntary denial of boarding (Rule 25). Unfortunately, they had already scanned the passengers ticket and allowed him on the aircraft, in other words, they boarded him and could no longer use the denial of boarding procedure.

    United’s next option would have been Rule 21 in the Contract of Carriage, which lists the reasons for which a passenger may be removed from a flight, and none of the criteria apply.

    If journalist’s asked the right questions, they would find he was indeed removed, not denied boarding. Simply asking if United re-scanned his ticket when he was taken off the plane to check for a Positive Bag match would confirm that he was removed, since when a passenger is removed from a flight, any checked bags must be removed too, as required by 49 USC 44901.

  42. Let’s face it, there is a lack of competition on many flight routes. When United took over Continental there was such demoralization among the once-Continental employees they made no secret of their dissatisfaction with their new employer. Many confided to me that customer service was grossly subordinated to the drive for profit, not that profit is bad or wrong, just a purely myopic policy in play. Fortunately, Alaska has emerged as a human face to the mix and others will surely follow. Soon United will commence a public relations campaign, but with so many planes already outfitted with tighter seats with less leg room, and institutionalized charges for even carry-on bags, a sea change must occur or the public will complain of window dressing without substance.

  43. Munoz needs to go back across the border to his peasant beginnings. How dare he defame this Dr. United and other US airline employees are abusing passengers. I have travelled over 2 million air miles and have never seen this behavior. Continentinal Airlines was so much better than United . We must change our our travel rules, these mediocrities in the airline system need to be subject to prosecution. This is outrageous!!!

  44. United is a despicable airline. I have traveled over 2 million miles and have never seen this type of conduct by an airline. This Dr. Was well within his rights and was law abiding. We are not living in Russia/China. Airline employees condoning this behavior should be prosecuted and United’s CEO should resign for his lack of customer support, we pay extraordinary airfares to travel. We are not prisoners and slavery ended with the civil war. We pay for as service and are not subject to medieval cruelty in receipt of that service. United is despicable and the CEO should resign for his lack of basic service delivery knowledge.

  45. Logged into my United account. Hit CONTACT US. I then asked United to donate all my miles to a charity as I will not be flying anymore.

    (Full disclosure – I usually fly AA where I am Plat. If I do fly Star Alliance I usually will accrue Air Canada Aeroplan points as I go to Canada for business 2x a year. I only have 7700 United miles.)

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