United CEO Oscar Munoz Just Sent an Awful Letter to Employees Whitewashing Attack on Passenger

The story of how a passenger got dragged off a United Express flight just keeps getting crazier and crazier.

It was terribly unfortunate that United decided they needed to send 4 crew members to Louisville on a full flight. The crew were needed to operate a flight in the morning, and if they didn’t passengers in the morning weren’t going to get where they were going.

So the airline asked for volunteers — offering up $800 in travel, a night’s hotel, and a flight the next afternoon. There were no takers. So the airline moved to remove passengers from the flight to make room, and a doctor refused to go.

Crew called the airport’s police, who dragged the passenger off the plane.

Officers bloodied him to the point he was muttering “just kill me” repeatedly. While the Chicago Police Department offered an absurd statement that the “man “fell” on his face,” one Aviation Police officer has been placed on leave over the incident.

United’s CEO made a dumb move apologizing merely for ‘having to re-accommodate’ passengers… not for the terrible thing that happened after the Chicago Aviation Police were called.

United CEO Oscar Munoz at Chicago O’Hare

But it gets worse. Munoz sent a letter to United employees beginning with the most important question of why the passenger defied the police rather than why the police bloodied the passenger. What ‘compounded’ the situation was the passengers refusal of the airline’s ‘polite’ request to deplane, making it ‘necessary’ to contact the police officer who appears to have beaten the passenger.

There is no mention in the letter from Munoz, including in the airline Chairman’s ‘recap’ of events, of the condition the passenger was left in.

Here’s Oscar Munoz’s letter to United employees, via @jonostrower:

Throughout this incident I’ve said that the passenger should have followed crew instructions, and that while the situation that started all of this is frustrating but that the airline appears to have followed its own procedures.

However the lack of acknowledgment of the worst element of what happened — whitewashing, even — that a person was dragged off and bloodied by airport police is a failure of tremendous proportions.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. […] Take the United flight where a passenger was brutally beaten for not giving up their seat on an allegedly overbooked flight. The passenger, a 69-year-old man, was pulled from his seat and beaten unconscious by the police. Initially, United CEO Oscar Munoz said that he would have a thorough investigation done, only to then try and justify the act by saying the passenger was “disruptive and belligerent,” in a letter to his staff. […]


  1. This video has been seen over 100 million times around the world. Imagine how it looks to potential customers in Asia. Then “so-called” CEO Oscar Munoz issues a tone deaf statement to his employees. What if that doctor were a heart transplant surgeon?

  2. Munoz should have owned this situation and described steps to prevent happening again. Bad crisis management.

  3. Munoz is in trouble now seeing how this is hitting the stock. As a stock analyst I can tell you once your poor executive judgement draws this kind of attention from institutional investors, you just started your own countdown clock. I would put the odds greater than 50% Munoz is out before the end of the year.

  4. I love how Munoz says “I stand behind you all” then says we all can learn from this. No shit you can learn from this, do not board the plane if you need four seats for deadheading passengers or offer more than $800 to get people out of their seats.

  5. @jan petersen- They won’t know about your black list, and they won’t care if they do learn about it.

  6. I think Oscar is right. “[T]here are lessons we can learn from this experience.”

    I have learned that Oscar is not CEO caliber; he’s sending a very poor message to his employees. I hate to think that the rest of the United employees will see this as condoning egregious customer-unfriendly behavior.

    I have also learned to not fly on United.

  7. Thanks United Airlines for letting us know your standard policy and operating procedures include dragging PAYING customers off the plane while unconscious and bloody. Munoz, his apology was pathetic. United Airline’s staff should have NEVER boarded the passengers to kick them off…It’s not a good policy to kick off PAYING passengers to accommodate United Airline employees regardless!!! The overall stupidity of the situation and aftermath is unbelievable. I hope the hurt passenger is awarded millions of dollars along with the passengers who had to endure such a preventable situation. FIRE MUNOZ!!!

  8. Incredible statement from the CEO. Imagine if the videos didn’t exist. He would have sold a bill of goods that’s completely inaccurate.

    I am troubled by how the CEO stands behind his employees for going beyond on this in his employee letter. It sure did go beyond something.

    The paying passenger was bloody. I agree with other posters to offer up enough so a passenger will accept on their own.

    Also that officer that bloodied him up on what crime? What law exactly did that doctor break to recieve that kind of treatment, then to file he fell on his face..

    I am a United 1K , been a 1K for years. I average about 130 segments and 200,000 miles a year with united at the moment.

    Perhaps the United Board should fire Oscar Munoz since I’m sure any other employees would have been terminated for fabricating a cover up of this magnetite.

    Maybe it would take a class action before united’s board takes action. I did read united force removed less than 10,000 paying passengers between united and united express a year in another article.

    Clem (United 1K, currently shopping for another carrier)

  9. Poor planning of employees getting to work is higher priority over a paying passenger is a poor message.

    Oscar , their CEO should resign or the board of United should fire Oscar.

  10. @Gary. I noticed your post regarding the background of the individual removed has been taken down. It was classless of you to even post something like that since it’s completely irrelevant. The gentleman was abused and bloodied and he will be compensated by a jury who will stick it to Oscar Munoz and United Airlines. I hope the gentleman wins millions of dollars. As a matter of fact I wish I could be on the jury. The flight wasn’t even over booked so what United did was clearly against the law. Hopefully our spineless representatives in Congress will put a stop to this nonsense and stop protecting airlines and start protecting consumers.

  11. He needs to sue the airlines and law enforcement!!!! He was probably picked out because he was an easy target. Looks like a very peaceful gentleman.

  12. The best chance United has of regaining some proportion of the customers is to replace this CEO (he can resign, the Board can fire him, either way is fine).

    He had a tremendous opportunity to make a horrifying situation better, and instead, made it worse. What’s worse than what happened to this passenger? Answer: The CEO supporting what happened. He could have, right away, distanced the company from this event, denounced what happened, said this is not policy, reassure everyone this will NEVER happen again to anyone in a similar situation. Of course, it is noble to protect and support your employees, generally speaking. But when a bloodied face dripping on your plane was the outcome, and getting dragged down the aisle; sorry, you cannot.

    This CEO showed an inability to search for good advice, find good advice, take good advice, or some combination. Where are his financial advisers? They can quickly do the calculation of having to pay out to the passenger; and let’s suppose the worst case scenario and every passenger on the plane sues for being forced to witness what happened and experiencing trauma from this. The millions of dollars paid out are still very little compared to a bankrupt airline, and losing millions of customers from this bad publicity. You can bet United will be losing many of its Asian customers internationally- do you think they want this to happen to them?

    Where was the CEO’s occupational psychologists and experts on customers? They could quickly tell him that when a customer sees this video, they will imagine that this could potentially happen to them. Let’s see, our country just elected a President, half of his platform was based on preventing terrorism. Generally, people fear being killed by terrorists on planes. Guess what their next fear will be now? Being pulled out from your seat violently and dragged down the aisle. Fear is a powerful force here, and the videos make people fear flying on United Airlines. They don’t want this to happen to themselves or their loved ones. Worse yet, even if it happened, it is clear the CEO will support the employees instead of the customer. Where were the CEO’s PR folks?

    The CEO was acting like this was a car accident between 2 private citizens where you admit no fault. That’s wrong– he is in a business that depends on customers. Admitting no fault causes customers to not trust you. The CEO was also acting like police depts do when they’ve done an internal investigation and concluded their police did nothing wrong. Again, a big distinction. Even if people disagree w/the police dept’s conclusion, they will still require their services next time they call 911. An Airline is totally different. If people disagree with him, he will lose business from his customers. In fact, the adage in the business he is in is more like “the customer is always right.” The CEO forgot all of this in his initial responses, and instead worsened the trust between United Airlines and their customers. It’s so bad, that he has to go. Even though he changed his tune now, we don’t believe him, because we saw firsthand that his initial responses were callous, lacked responsibility, and it’s obvious that what happened in the video– well, the problems clearly start at the top.

    Put another way, even the leggings incident was strange and is a bit of a gray area but picky to pick on kids wearing leggings. But whatever. It wasn’t going to change me flying on United. However, this current incident is making me change my behavior with United. I have been a mileage plus member for decades, have enjoyed supporting them, probably in the past would even pick United over other airlines if the same price range. Now, this week I have to book a flight to Washington D.C. for the summer and guess what? With the CEO in place and with what happened, I will definitely avoid United. Don’t want this to happen to me or to see this happen to someone else.

    And no, it is not about $$ or the bottom line either. I consider myself an average traveler. I have turned down the cheapest flights in Europe when I didn’t recognize their name, or felt the planes would be too small. I have passed over cheaper flights for airlines that had safety problems. And I certainly would pass over United now for my own safety, even if they were cheaper.

  13. they asked for volunteers, that did not look like volunteering to me, They should of talked to him to see why he wasn’t going to leave his seat. The word Dr should’ve said it all, and that he needed to be home the next day. he could not wait a day. Yes i did hear the rumors about him, but they did not know any of that, when they forced him off the plane. they should of picked another volunteer . and let him go to his office the next day, you can tell how desperate he was when he tried to get back on the plane

  14. Well, the letter to employees from Oscar Munoz is a real eye-opener. So, they’ve referred to a process for denial of boarding – but the passenger was onboard. This is actually an ‘eviction’ and from what I understand of airport procedures a passenger should only ever be evicted from a flight if they are causing trouble (and I don’t mean as a reaction to being told ‘we’re going to throw you off this flight’) or endangering the flight or other passengers.

    Denied boarding means stopping someone from getting onboard the plane.

    United need to be sued BIG TIME for this and boycotted by every law-abiding citizen who respects human rights.

  15. Big Business Brutality at its Best! United….Shame on you!! Get a new PR firm, a New Tagline, as “The Friendly Skies” is now FOREVER A JOKE!! Oh, and while you are at it, dear Stockholders and Board of Directors, your CEO is an idiot! I will never fly this airline again and suggest others to do the same.

  16. @KMU

    I think you covered the important points very well. United/Republic are companies that think they can do whatever they want, to whomever, at any time. I work for large company that actually does the same thing. The policies exist when the company wants to use those policies to get rid of employees or doesn’t want to do the right thing for the customer because it would cost to much money. It is everywhere in American business. It is all about money.

    But United has not planned for passengers (probably every passenger), who have cameras and can take video. Video that doesn’t lie or twist the facts. I feel sorry for the United employees who do their jobs correctly and take ownership of their jobs. Munoz is a jackass of a CEO. “Great Communicator” of what? Munoz should not be in the CEO position. For us as passengers, we need to vote with our feet. Take your business to the other airlines. Americans did this before, with BP oil spill. We can do this and we should!

    It really bothers me that “Boarding Area” bloggers took the side of United first, before all the facts came out. You want to say that you are media, and then do things that are wrong. Anyone who studied journalism knows that you only report what is known as fact. You cannot be a “thought leader” when you misrepresent the facts. Or when you publicize the victims background as if it had anything to do with the United incident. You didn’t score points with that info. It made your blog look like the “National Enquirer”.

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