United Airlines made headlines for all the wrong reasons in April, when a passenger was forcibly removed from a overbooked flight.
Video of the incident, which involved three aviation security officers dragging the 69-year-old Dr. David Dao off the plane, stirred outrage online and in the media. Dao refused to step off the flight to make room for a United employee. He had to be hospitalized for a concussion and other injuries sustained in the melee.
But it wasn’t just the dragging incident that sparked outrage.
United CEO Oscar Munoz spurred anger by labelling the passenger “disruptive” and “belligerent” in his initial recap of the event, which did not include an apology. As controversy continued to build, Munoz issued an apology, placing the blame on United’s policies.
Throughout the controversy, however, Munoz refused to place blame on his employees, even emphasising that he stood behind them and commending them for going “above and beyond.”
At Glassdoor’s Recruit Event, the CEO discussed the airline’s internal response to the controversy. He said that his No. one objective was his employees — not the airline’s passengers:
“It was about supporting our employees because for me, the objective is I cannot lose these folks. As much as people wanted me to potentially blame other people, I couldn’t do it because once they see someone who they think highly of — in this case, me — if they see them in a tough moment giving up on their principles and starting to blame somebody else, I think you start getting at the root and the heart of someone’s true principles, and I could not let that happen.”
In response to the incident, United altered crew booking policy, mandating that United employees “travelling on their aircraft are booked into seats at least 60 minutes before departure,” according to Reuters. The airline settled out-of-court with Dao, Business Insider reported. United also took out a full page ad in several major US newspapers to apologise to the public.
But the controversy didn’t quiet down quickly. Munoz and other airline industry leaders were called before Congress in the wake of the incident. The United CEO said the incident proved to be a “turning point” for his company, and he promised to “do better.”
“I had to support our employees despite the intense, massive, ugly scrutiny that we got because of that,” Munoz told the audience at the Glassdoor event. “It wasn’t them — it was policies and principles that got in the way…”
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