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. Thank goodness the girls with leggings didn’t get this treatment.

    You only call police knowing that serious injury or death may occur. It’s a serious call.

    There were plenty of other airlines’ flights to move the extra crew on.

    Munoz has to be made an example of for his gross callousness.

  2. @Gary – I am not so certain that United followed their own procedures or even the DOT regulations unless they complied with the following –

    from transportation.gov

    “DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn’t. ”

    If the airline employee that requested the removal did not comply with this requirement , then they did not comply with DOT regs. UA needed to provide the pax IN WRITING how he was chosen to be removed and his rights. Just getting on the PA and announcing the rules does not seem sufficient.

    The media/bloggers with media connections need to ask the fellow paxs that have been on the news and UA whether they provided the pax with the written statement. If they didn’t then the escalation was a direct result of their failure to comply with DOT regs.

  3. @ Carlos — Again, your outrage doesn’t square with the facts. UA doesn’t routinely bump passengers for crew. You may not appreciate it, but running an airline is a highly complex logistical operation, and everything is planned to avoid this type of situation. Something unusual happened that day which required these employees to be on that flight to operate a flight the next morning. We don’t know what those facts are, but I can assure you it wasn’t just somebody not doing their job.
    If you had to get the crew down their on short notice, the approach taken by UA was more than reasonable. On most flights, people will take $1000 in compensation for a later flight. That’s why involuntarily denied passengers are very rare. Most of us who fly all the time have never even seen it! This isn’t an airline being callous and indifferent to its customers; it’s an airline that has used these same procedures for years, and almost nobody complains about it. And this is a business where EVERYBODY complains about everything all the time!
    I know you THINK that buying an airplane ticket should be like sitting at a restaurant table or sleeping in a hotel room, and if you’re in a seat it’s yours, but that is NOT how the airline business works. And there are very good reasons for this. I can understand how this extreme incident can cause shock among people who don’t understand the business (why should you?), but we don’t need to radically change years of settled and effective bumping procedures just because one odd guy refused to follow instructions and the police used too much force to remove him.

  4. There should be people asking if this would have happened if he were white. Non whites, knowing how they are treated have this question

  5. Why do we need to bring race into this? I don’t see this as a race issue as I think the police would have just have easily done this to a white person in the same situation. That being said the whole he fell on his face story is BS and after looking at his injuries and the video I think there needs to be criminal prosecutions of the officers involved, especially when it comes to falsifying reports. United Airlines really disgraced themselves here and the Chicago police have shown their true colors for the world to see. That level of force should have never been employed.

  6. @ Carlos – You have it exactly right. The flight was NOT oversold. UA had a staffing problem and is trying to disguise it as an oversold flight. All the media have fallen for it, but in the courtroom the truth will come out.

  7. @ Chris — You do realize that UA could have said “Screw it — It’s going to be too much trouble involuntarily selecting passengers to get off this flight. Let’s just cancel it.”

    If they did, they legally would owe nothing except a refund to its customers. (Although I would expect them to do more than that, as they should).

    People miss meetings, weddings and funerals with regularity because air travel is not perfect, and it’s not guaranteed. If you absolutely, positively have to be there, go early. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is, and nobody would want to pay for a completely foolproof aviation system.

  8. There were many other flights leaving Chicago Ohare to Louisville after the boarding time of this flight (AA at 6:40 PM direct and 6:45 PM via CLT, Delta at 6:30 PM), including one by United (UA 4771 leaving at 9 PM). Why did United decide to involuntarily remove passenger who had already boarded instead of putting its crew that was needed the next day in another flight?

  9. @iahphx: That’s a dumb point to make. How do you know he wasn’t trying to get there “early”? How do you know he wasn’t getting his vacation cut short because of some emergencies in the office and have no choice but take this flight? The poor guy was in no way posing a security concern. There’s a reason why majority of people sided with him and this is making all the news. I get that you always want to be edgy and try to appear as an independent thinker, but through all this, you are only proving yourself as a sewage of a human being. Possibly racist, too. Possibly a Trump supporter, too. Come on, you yourself know that.

  10. Reports by passengers on the plane indicate that United offered $800, not the $1000 the Munoz claims in his letter. Which is correct? I suspect that upping the offer to $1000 would have created at least one more seat given up by a willing volunteer.

  11. This goes to show how low US airlines have sunk . Especially that you are defending this . Would never happen on an Asian airline like Singapore airlines or middle eastern airline like Qatar airways !

  12. @ Gary: Respectfully, that probably will ultimately be decided by the courts. My point is that there seems to be a legal argument to be made that United was wrong (apart from being morally and ethically wrong). Also, it may be in breach of Rule 21 of its Contract of Carriage, which does not seem to mention this situation as a reason to force a passenger off a plane.

    I guess we’ll see.

  13. UA is run by a retard named Oscar.
    Maybe the heart attack stopped the blood flow to that tiny brain.
    Or maybe Oscar was a retard to begin with.

  14. This made me really mad. the passenger paid for his flight. Be there on time, got an operation for his patient next day morning. according by another witness video he actually volunteered for the next flight but there was not flight till next day 2 pm. What else you want from this man?? it’s not his problem that your flight is overly booked. I have not see a word of apology in this letter. The CEO of UA used the word of unfortunate and upset. This making me really mad. This man deserves more respect. You chosen him because he is an Asian. If he is a big black dude. You will not treat him with this kind of disrespect. So angry with UA and will never ever fly with your stupid crew and stupid CEO ever again.

  15. Such a stark contrast to the tone of the post this morning. I’m guessing that the criticism and maybe subscriber loss caused a sudden compassion for the passenger? Way to go Gary.

  16. United overbooks; a typical airline maneuver subordinating customer service to maximum profit. However, for United to allow customers who demand the service they have paid for to be physically beaten to insure the wishes of the airline, is incomprehensible. To further exacerbate an already intolerable, unforgivable United nightmare, CEO Oscar Munoz, “deflects and distracts” by alluding that it is the fault of the victim. Sound like a familiar 2017 political strategy? The only voice we have is to vote our pocketbook by boycotting. I, for one, will never book, or allow company employees of mine to book, a United flight until Munoz is fired or resigns and the victimized passenger receives a public apology and appropriate compensation.

  17. This could have so easily been avoided. Up the offer to passengers to be “re-accommodated” until enough passengers volunteer. Also, offering vouchers is just an opportunity to give United more money. Offer cash. After all, as has been said many times before “lack of planning on your part does not mean an emergency on my part, United Airlines.” Airlines are making money hand-over-fist these days. Don’t overbook and plan for such situations, but that would mean easing up on the greed a little.

  18. “Why do we need to bring race into this? I don’t see this as a race issue as I think the police would have just have easily done this to a white person in the same situation.”

    Maybe because the Chicago police SPECIFICALLY mentioned his race.

    And he was NOT denied boarding. He HAD boarded and was being kicked off. If the airline’s offer had been a good deal then people would have VOLUNTEERED to take it.

  19. Cannot imagine such an attack on passenger is lawful.

    United is now playing smart by shifting the responsibility to the police. Afterall, they can claim that they called them, but they did not state a request for a savage attack. The police took in it in their own hands to do so.

    Then the police can always say United might have stated that the passenger in question is a massive threat to flight security, and non-compliant, and they should do whatever necessary.

    Using these arguments, the 2 parties could possibly justify a lot of strong arm tactics.

    I think if the 2 parties are allowed to get away, then such actions are not just not condemned, but further encouraged.

  20. The name calling in this thread is ridiculous. Lets review what people say SHOULD have happened:

    Option 1) The UA employees don’t get on the plane to LOU, and the return flight the next day MUST be canceled. You can’t put the employees in an Uber, their contract and the rules state they aren’t on rest time until they arrive at their host airport. You can’t just change union work rules like that. They HAD to fly on that plane. Why did this happen today? I bet you there will be a good look at that, but my bet is that to have regional employees basically lose an ENTIRE day traveling and then staying in LOU instead of working isn’t a good idea, and 99 times out of 100 having the crew fly on this plane is not a problem.

    Option 2) The amount should have been raised until someone took it, because 200 bucks all the way up to 1000 didn’t get anyone to take it, so SURELY someone would have gotten off the plane if it it JUST was $1200! So now takeoff slots don’t matter at all, and planes can stay at the gate while the agents need to play “Lets Make A Deal!” to deal with an oversale, which, let me remind you HAPPENS TO ALL AIRLINES.

    Option 3) UA should never have oversold! Great, how would you like that to work? With MAJOR hub operations, people OFTEN have stranded segments, missed connections, as well as just wanting to use SDC and other options to change flights. In order to do this, you overbook a flight REASONABLY. According to stats that Nate Silver posted, UA INVOLed 0.4 people per 10,000 paid passengers. Jetblue INVOLed more. So did many airlines. Most were pretty close to the UA number. This is NOT just a UA problem, its the entire industry, and its actually proof that it USUALLY works! We DON’T hear stories like this often!

    Option 4) They should have offered to change who they INVOLed! So this Doctors life is more important then any other person who was on that plane? It now an airlines job to decide how important people are to their lives to determine the order they are chosen? People have insinuated that UA specifically picked this guy, and they are demanding to see the algorithm?! Why would UA specifically choose a Doctor? Why wouldn’t they choose the person with the lowest fare, and the least ability to fight back?! The fact that the first two people who were INVOLed got off the plane without incident shows that this was not a way to ‘get back at some people’.

    Option 5) They should have gotten another plane. You can’t just ‘create’ a landing/takeoff slot, airports don’t work like that. You need to have a scheduled plane, or file for a special operation, neither of which could be done.

    The DoT has WRITTEN rules for oversales, that REQUIRE cash to be given to the person being removed. There is regulation for this activity, and there is consumer protection! EVERY time an oversale happens, it MUST be reported to the DoT.

    NO ONE is saying what happened was optimal. What we ARE saying is that the ONLY reason we are talking about it is because of the activities of the police officers. Does ANYONE wish this to have happened? No. But to call for the CEO’s head for something that is regular airline practice is just plain silly.

  21. Stop saying this guys is IDB. He was boarded!
    Following crew instructions has to do with safety, nothing to do with trying to solve a major fuck-up by the airline and then using your so called Befehl ist Befehl power as an airline employee to have a customer treated like a pig in a slaughter house by the police.
    I rarely say this as i think the whole claiming culture in America is dumb, but I hope this guy gets millions and have lots of people think twice about flying United.
    And what about that CEO and that statement….

  22. @iahphx you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. There was no excuse for dragging this passenger off the plane. As many have commented the plane was not oversold they just needed 4 seats for their own employees. That is not legally the same as being oversold since their own passengers did not have confirmed reservations on the flight. How can a flight be oversold if there were no confirmed passengers left off the flight in the gate? United will pay BIG TIME for this act of stupidity and people will think twice before giving their business to a company with a CEO as brain dead as Munoz. His statement was a deliberate attempt not to criticize his employees except what he did was something you never do in business and that is to blame the customer. He should have expressed outrage, called for an immediate investigation and then contact this customer and personally apologize for the physical abuse and treatment he received. It has to be one of the dumbest public relations moves I have ever seen by a large corporation. At the end of the day this could have been any one of us and it’s not acceptable. I also have no doubt the city of Chicago will pay BIG TIME for the stupidity of these airport officers. They’ll be looking for new careers.

  23. ‘To Protect and Serve’, really ???? and It would have been cheaper to charter an aircraft to fly the ‘Must Go’ Crew to LOU , than the millions its going to cost now in court .

  24. @Tim just because you are on the plane doesn’t mean that you can’t be taken off of it. The airline controls who gets to fly.

    @Mark The statement is not the best, however nothing in it is factually incorrect. The way people are reacting you would think that Mr Munoz PERSONALLY called the police and asked for this passenger to be bloodied.

  25. “but we don’t need to radically change years of settled and effective bumping procedures just because one odd guy refused to follow instructions and the police used too much force to remove him.” Wow…one odd guy? He bought a ticket, didn’t want to delay his trip, felt he has the right to refuse United’s bully, and he got violently dragged out and injured his face just so United can make more money on their next flight. Does this sound normal to you? Does the inconvenience of other passenages on United’s next flight really worth this? what if he is your dad? Or your kid? You sounded really inhuman.

  26. The flight was NOT oversold. UA had a staffing problem and is trying to disguise it as an oversold flight. Sue them!! They need to take consequences for what they did!

  27. Munoz received someone else’s heart which saved his life. But, Munoz most obviously has no heart when it comes to how he treats his own customers.

    Callous doesn’t even begin to describe the man who runs his company.

  28. COMPLETELY DO NOT AGREE. Follow instructions for getting booted off a flight because United needs to fly their own? Up the ante and offer 5K each. There is NO EXCUSE for assault. Ridiculous

  29. I’m betting the “reporting” would be different if the airline involved was AA instead of United. The email Oscar sent appears to be factually correct. Whatever the Chicago aviation cops did was beyond United’s control. While it’s unfortunate with the outcome, it seems that Gary decided to jump on the rioter crowd bandwagon instead of analyze the facts. Thought leader in click-bait indeed.

  30. you typically cannot get a seat assignment until that seat is paid for. once it’s paid for and the pax doesn’t show up, the airline still has it’s money, just flying with one less pax. Why they overbook is beyond me but they do. how do they overbook and assign the same seat to two people? How can overbooking even happen?

  31. @Joel.. Mr. Munoz is the CEO of United Airlines and he is responsible for the culture at the airline and the actions taken by his employees. Even worse he is responsible for his horrendous statement after the incident which in itself is a reason for him to step down. He clearly lacks the ability to understand right from wrong and how to treat customers. Anyone that says this flight was over booked does not understand the definition of over booking. The airline should have either paid out more compensation to interest passengers or they should have arranged for an alternative way for their 4 employees to get to Louisville.

    Here is the definition of over booked-
    Practice of airlines, hotels, concert and other public show arrangers to SELL more tickets than the actual number of people they can accommodate. It aims to avoid empty seats or rooms due to no-shows, and is legally sanctioned so long it is not abused.

    Read more: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/overbooking.html

  32. Politicians are already ask for investigation, media demanding changing overbooking rules.

    This is what I mean, “right by the book” will not survive this type of fiasco. I know some of you guys truly believe customer is in the wrong, from “rules” stand point, I understand that. Just know this will not end well for United.

  33. @ Bill – it’s a race issue because the guy WASN’T white. It’s easy to say to that the police would do the same with a white guy; but where’s the video of it?

    There’s none, because it didn’t happen.

  34. Can anyone clarify if putting employees on a sold-out flight at the last minute falls in under the same regulations as an oversold flight?

  35. The flight was ultimately delayed 3 hours. A car ride from Chicago to Louisville takes 4 1/2 hours. Should have put them (the crew) in an Uber, they would have gotten there only an hour and 1/2 later than the flight.

  36. looks like the arrogance and stupidity can be traced all the way to the top

  37. @Joelfreak must either be a United troll or just …..well, a freak. Everyone seems to recognize that this incident was handled about as badly as it possibly could’ve been.

    “The statement is not the best, however nothing in It is factually incorrect”?? That sounds like the BP oil spill strategy.

    “Just because you’re on the plane doesn’t mean you can’t be taken off of it”?? Looks like you were right on that one. In this case, “right” will be right costly for United.

    “stay at the gate while the agents need to play let’s make a deal”?? – how long do you suppose that would take? When seats are needed for airline employees the airline should bid until someone says yes. $1200 might not have done it – but this was no place for algorithms.

    Much of the world is now focused on the ridiculous state of commercial airline travel. At least for a news cycle.

  38. “Why do we have to bring race into this???” Says “Bill” the white guy who never had his face re-arranged to a bloody pulp (sorry, “re-accomodated”) for peacefully refusing to be thrown out of a place of public accomodation.

    I JUST got bumped from a flight, even though I was literally the first passenger to check in, had an international connection (while others did not), and paid for a full-fare ticket. Passengers arriving 2 full hours after me at check in, in economy, were not bumped. I’m Asian. Please don’t pull this “I’m colorblind” crap. You’re “colorblind” precisely because people don’t routinely treat you like crap because of your color.

  39. United Airlines has become an appalling entity. Under his new CEO Oscar Munoz, it shifted from an airline company with one the worst track record of customer service, to now also a track record of deliberate racism, and violence against its passengers.

    Repeatedly, United Airlines offers an appalling spectacle to the world, of racist/religious discrimination against its passengers. Examples abound of muslim passengers discriminated, like for example May 2015 a young muslim woman humiliated during a flight by an attendant, or in April 2016 an entire family was kicked off a United airplane, and many other cases.

    The latent racism at United does not affect only passengers, but also black pilots. In September 2016 black pilots called for an investigation to expose a pattern of racial discrimination at United.

    Now in the latest incident, we see an asian man already on board, being assaulted with physical violence, and forcibly removed from the airplane.

    Racism is a fact at United, as multiplication of cases show a pattern. Whether the most recent incident was caused by racist inclination, or aggravated by it, is irrelevant. It just fits the pattern.

    However, it is the violence, and the total disrespect of passengers’ most elementary rights, at United, that is now the visible, verified fact.

    This reality at United Airlines under the “leadership” of an obviously incompetent Oscar Munoz, should be addressed and corrected. Unchecked, I have not the shred of a doubt, that the damage to the company will become irreparable in the long run.

    What image does United project to the US citizens and to the world as a sort of US ambassador? The image reflecting a country in a state of gradual decay of societal values, where aggression and regression, are the copilots of corruption.

    But Oscar Munoz is also a liar, who does not care a bit about the passenger’s rights. The asian man who was kicked out violently, and traumatized, was not “belligerent”. Many witnesses declared that this passenger had appeared to be a very friendly and reasonable man, contrary to Mr Munoz’s vile allegations against the passenger. No doubt that being a medical doctor, that passenger is totally able to manage stress and human interaction, certainly far better than Mr CEO Munoz, encapsulated in his bubble. Equally appalling is Mr Munoz’s complaint against the passenger because “he raised his voice” [when said he had to disembark]. Really? Who would not raise his or her voice, in this appalling situation?

    Could it be that Mr Munoz might ideologically believe that passengers are nothing but expandable cattle to be pushed around?

    While the incompetence of an Oscar Munoz since his tenure as CEO is obvious, it is certain also that this deplorable situation at United could not occur if it were not for a degree of subservience and compliance that fringes mental slavery, amidst large sections of the US population. This is illustrated here in the comments, by someone who attempts to defend United and its CEO, uttering the inane argument that “running an airline is a highly complex logistical operation” … Really? With such grotesque absence of common sense, we would occasionally kick some patients off a hospital, and drag them violently down the corridors, because “running a hospital is a highly complex logistical operation”.

    Ultimately, the choice will be either the rapid and dishonorable departure of this grossly incompetent business leader, or the gradual departure of United Airlines into the land of PanAm, TWA etc

  40. You are 100% wrong. This is absolutely illegal and is not a case of denied boarding so is not covered under those regulations. This was forcible removal from an aircraft. From a lawyer on another blog:

    “This myth that passengers don’t have rights needs to go away, ASAP. You are dead wrong when saying that United legally kicked him off the plane.

    First of all, it’s airline spin to call this an overbooking. The statutory provision granting them the ability to deny boarding is about “OVERSALES”, specifically defines as booking more reserved confirmed seats than there are available. This is not what happened. They did not overbook the flight; they had a fully booked flight, and not only did everyone already have a reserved confirmed seat, they were all sitting in them. The law allowing them to denying boarding in the event of an oversale does not apply.

    Even if it did apply, the law is unambiguously clear that airlines have to give preference to everyone with reserved confirmed seats when choosing to involuntarily deny boarding. They have to always choose the solution that will affect the least amount of reserved confirmed seats. This rule is straightforward, and United makes very clear in their own contract of carriage that employees of their own or of other carriers may be denied boarding without compensation because they do not have reserved confirmed seats. On its face, it’s clear that what they did was illegal– they gave preference to their employees over people who had reserved confirmed seats, in violation of 14 CFR 250.2a.

    Furthermore, even if you try and twist this into a legal application of 250.2a and say that United had the right to deny him boarding in the event of an overbooking; they did NOT have the right to kick him off the plane. Their contract of carriage highlights there is a complete difference in rights after you’ve boarded and sat on the plane, and Rule 21 goes over the specific scenarios where you could get kicked off. NONE of them apply here. He did absolutely nothing wrong and shouldn’t have been targeted. He’s going to leave with a hefty settlement after this fiasco. “

  41. @Thanh — And your post — calling me a “sewage of a human being” for simply disagreeing with your point of view IS the problem with social media. People who think they know more than they do can’t tolerate other opinions and discuss them civilly.

  42. I use common sense to judge each event, same on this case. Based on the video, the UA just brought my memory about history on how in the Middle Ages, the people were being treated. Since I am a selfish guy, and I dont want to be beat on my next flight, i will not use UA anymore, and period.
    Let see if UAL will hold the $71.97, this will be the best answer for UA CEO.

  43. SNorth’s comments from a lawyer seem legally plausible in this case.

    In his letter, maybe Munoz wanted to say that there’s no basis for a complaint because the passenger received an upgrade in service, as he received a free facial treatment.

  44. If congress gets involved to change overbooking rules to eliminate the 0.09% bumping “problem”, expect higher ticket prices. There’s no free lunch.

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