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United Airlines: Passenger takes first legal steps, as new footage emerges

Dao remains in the hospital but a family member is expected to take part in a press conference today.
Apr 13th 2017, 7:22 AM 67,152 104

UNITED CONTINENTAL CHIEF executive Oscar Munoz has said he will not resign and again apologised for the removal of a customer from an overbooked flight by force – an incident that drew global scorn.

It comes as passenger David Dao takes the first steps in potential legal action, and new footage of the incident emerges online.

“I was hired to make United better and we’ve been doing that and that’s what I’ll continue to do,” Munoz said, when asked about calls for his resignation as leader of the embattled airline on ABC’s Good Morning America.

Munoz reiterated his regret over Sunday’s incident, which sparked widespread outrage and mushroomed into a global public relations disaster after video of passenger Dao, 69, his face bloodied, being dragged off the plane, went viral.

“Probably the word ‘shame’ comes to mind,” Munoz said, adding that he had not yet spoken to Dao, but his team had tried to reach out to him.

“We’ve not been able to contact him directly,” Munoz said.

I do look forward to a time when I can as much as I’m able to apologise directly to him for what’s happened.

Munoz pledged a thorough review of United’s procedures and promised that police would not be used in the future to remove passengers.

United also said it would compensate all passengers on Dao’s flight.

United shares fell 1.1% to end the trading day at $69.93.

‘Tone deaf’ response 

Meanwhile, attorneys for Dao filed papers in Cook County courthouse in Chicago demanding preservation of surveillance video, passenger and crew lists and other evidence, a first step in potential litigation.

“After being duly processed by the ticket agent, checked in by the attendant and seated in his assigned passenger seat, Petitioner was forcibly dragged and removed from the said aircraft by City employees, sustaining personal injury,” the filing said.

A spokeswoman for law firm Corboy and Demetrio said Dao remained in the hospital but that a family member is expected to participate in a news conference today in Chicago.

Munoz also faced criticism for his initial response to the crisis in which he appeared to put partial blame for the incident on the passenger, saying he had “defied” authorities and “compounded” the incident.

Meanwhile, new footage, by passenger Joya Cummings, shows Dao politely telling officers that he is a physician and has to work tomorrow. “I am not going,” he tells the officers.

He tells them the only way he’ll leave is if he’s dragged out of his seat.

Source: Storyful News/YouTube

PR disaster 

Magazine PRWeek blasted the United CEO for his “tone-deaf” comments in the wake of the incident that seemed to be heavily lawyered and cast the incident “purely in terms of its effect on United, rather than the injured passenger.”

The magazine had last month named Munoz its ‘US Communicator of the Year’ for 2016 based on his steadying of the airline after the prior chief executive resigned amid a scandal and Munoz himself suffered a heart attack.

“It’s fair to say that if PRWeek was choosing its Communicator of the Year now, we would not be awarding it to Oscar Munoz,” editor-in-chief Steve Barrett said in a column.

Reputational risk is a huge concern for modern enterprises and relates to the value of a brand or company just as much legal and liability risk – lawyers cannot be the first line of a communications defense.

Overbooking under scrutiny 

The incident has spotlighted the common practice of overbooking and bumping passengers from flights, which airlines rely upon to avoid losing money on seats left empty by no-show passengers.

In this case, United needed to make room for a flight crew and called security personnel when no passengers volunteered to give up their seats.

© – AFP, 2017 with reporting from Daragh Brophy 

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