United Airlines will no longer allow crew members to displace passengers who are already seated on a plane.
Under a new policy, which is meant to avoid future public relations disasters like the one the world witnessed earlier this week, airline crews are required to check in at least an hour before a flight leaves, the airline company said. The purpose is to avoid having to find a seat for a crew member after all passengers have already boarded.
The policy change comes nearly a week after a passenger was forcibly removed from a flight so a crew member could take his seat. Now-viral videos of the incident show the man being dragged out of his seat and down the aisle and off the plane.
United spokeswoman Maggie Schmerin said in an email that the new policy is meant to ensure that such incidents will “never happen again.” Previously, crews could be booked up until the time of departure, Schmerin said.
“This is one of our initial steps in a review of our policies to deliver the best customer service,” Schmerin said.
According to an internal email published by TMZ, crews who are not checked in within the 60-minute window will have to book the next available flight.
No crew member “can displace a customer who has boarded an aircraft,” according to the email, which was sent Friday. Schmerin confirmed the authenticity of the published email.
The incident, which set off a public relations crisis for United, happened at Chicago O’Hare International Airport last Sunday. A United official told passengers that it needed four volunteers to give up their seats for off-duty crew members. But no one volunteered, so the airline chose the passengers. One of them, 69-year-old David Dao, refused to give up his seat.
Videos taken by other passengers show a now-suspended security officer with the Chicago Department of Aviation leaning over to grab Dao and pulling him up. At some point, Dao went limp, and the officer dragged him off the plane. Two other officers have been placed on leave.
The following day, United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz issued a statement apologizing “for having to re-accomodate” the customers. He also sent a reassuring letter to his employees, which appeared to blame Dao, saying he “refused” to cooperate after he was “politely asked” to leave, prompting crews to call for help.
The disturbing videos have been uploaded multiple times on YouTube, with one viewed more than 3 million times as of Saturday. The incident — and Munoz’s muted response to it — also prompted international outrage, particularly from China, where public anger was fueled by reports that Dao is Asian. He is Vietnamese.
By Tuesday, United’s stock prices had plummeted, and Munoz issued a more humbled apology the same day.
“I continue to be disturbed by what happened. I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard,” Munoz said of the passenger he seemed to fault in his letter to employees. “No one should ever be mistreated this way … It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again.”
Munoz also promised to review policies on how United handles overbooked flights, and to have a public report by April 30.
The United chief, who was awarded “Communicator of the Year” by PRWeek about a month ago, acknowledged Wednesday on ABC News’s “Good Morning America” that his immediate response to the incident “fell short of truly expressing the shame” he felt after seeing the videos.
A United a spokeswoman also said Wednesday that all the passengers on the flight would receive compensation equal to the cost of their tickets.
In a statement issued Thursday, United said the company will no longer ask law enforcement officers to remove passengers from flights “unless it is a matter of safety and security,” and will review its training programs for employees.
The company also repeated its apologies, saying Munoz had reached out to Dao “on numerous occasions.”
Dao’s attorney, Thomas Demetrio, said at a news conference Thursday that his client will “probably” file a lawsuit. Dao suffered a concussion and a broken nose, and will undergo reconstructive surgery after losing two front teeth, Demetrio said.
Lori Aratani contributed to this story.