ProPublica obtained and released a number of Acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell’s emails.
Included in the batch was correspondence with United Airlines during their PR crisis surrounding the dragging and beating of passenger David Dao in April 2017, while Elwell was an advisor to the Secretary of Transportation.
When passenger Dao was ordered to get off the aircraft he was seated on, in order to accommodate employees the United Express carrier needed to work another flight, he refused. The airline dealt with the customer service challenge by calling airport police, who dragged him off the aircraft and bloodied him.
Instead of being shocked, angry, or disappointed that a customer was dragged off and bloodied, the response from United’s CEO was initially to apologize that passengers had to be re-accommodated because of the incident.
United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. pic.twitter.com/rF5gNIvVd0
— United Airlines (@united) April 10, 2017
Munoz also sent a letter to employees recapping that Dao was treated politely by the airline, and that it was necessary to call police.
United’s initial defense of what happened fueled resentment and coverage of the issue. It highlighted the extent to which airlines, in a post-9/11 world, outsource customer service to law enforcement.
In the released e-mails Elwell called United ‘very responsive and proactive’ and hoped himself to get bumped given all the compensation United would be handing out.
Just over two weeks past the event United rolled out its customer service response. They had been in discussions with the Department of Transportation over the incident. And Elwell told the airline they were doing great!
Elwell isn’t wrong that tons of denied boarding compensation was now on the table to avoid involuntary denied boardings. However I’m not sure passengers would have been thrilled to see the Department of Transportation so encouraging of United during the Dao crisis.
And it should give pause to simplistic notions of ‘re-regulating’ airlines. Remember that these are the regulators. In Elwell’s case the former American Airlines pilot was an airline industry lobbyist in between stints in government.