'It Was A Mistake Of Epic Proportions,' United CEO Testifies : The Two-Way "Clearly our policies broke down," Oscar Munoz told the House Transportation Committee regarding an incident in which a passenger was dragged off a flight.
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'It Was A Mistake Of Epic Proportions,' United CEO Testifies

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'It Was A Mistake Of Epic Proportions,' United CEO Testifies

'It Was A Mistake Of Epic Proportions,' United CEO Testifies

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The CEO of United Airlines is apologizing again for the violent removal of a passenger who was dragged off a plane last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OSCAR MUNOZ: We had a horrible failure three weeks ago. It is not who we are. It is not this company. I mean, frankly, it is not this industry.

SIEGEL: That mea culpa came at a hearing today held by the House Transportation Committee. Oscar Munoz and other airline executives were grilled about persistent customer service problems. NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster wasted no time in setting an almost scolding tone, promising it would not be a pleasant hearing for United CEO Oscar Munoz and the other airline executives sitting before him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL SHUSTER: There's something clearly broken when we see passengers being treated the way some of them have been treated in recent flights. Regardless of the contractual relationship between the airline and the ticket holder, it's just common decency and common sense that you don't treat a person that way, let alone a paying customer.

SCHAPER: Shuster says after the dragging incident on United and another incident on American Airlines in which a woman with a stroller was removed from a flight, the airline bosses owe the flying public some answers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHUSTER: This issue is not going away, and we're not going away. We will hold you accountable, and we expect real results.

SCHAPER: Munoz again apologized for the incident in which United passenger David Dao, a 69-year-old doctor from Kentucky, was pulled out of his seat by O'Hare airport security officers and dragged up the aisle and off the plane after refusing to be involuntarily bumped from the Louisville-bound flight to accommodate United crew members needed to work a flight the next day. Munoz calls the entire episode a mistake of epic proportions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUNOZ: Unless safety or security are - is an issue, we will never again ask a customer to give up their seat once they're on board - simple common sense - or ask law enforcement to remove a customer from a flight.

SCHAPER: Munoz says United will now reduce overbooking of flights. And when it does need to bump passengers, it will now offer up to $10,000 in compensation in hopes of getting more volunteers. Other airlines are changing their policies too. Southwest, for example, says it will end the practice of overbooking flights altogether, but that's hardly the only problem people have with airlines.

Committee members complained about long lines, smaller seats with less room between them and fees for more leg room, checked bags and every other little thing at a time profits for the industry are soaring. William McGee of the Consumers Union told the committee that poor customer service is a product of airline consolidation, less competition and cost-cutting measures like outsourcing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAM MCGEE: I'm not sure that many passengers are even aware that when they check in or when they are speaking to a customer service agent, in fact in many cases, they're wearing a uniform of an airline; they have a name tag from an airline, but they're outsourced.

SCHAPER: Several committee members are calling on the airlines to make changes on their own before Congress forces them to. Again, Republican Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHUSTER: If we don't see meaningful results that improve customer service the next time this committee meets to address the issue, I can assure you, you won't like the outcome.

SCHAPER: Such a move would run counter to the Trump administration's promises to reduce industry regulations. But there are already close to half a dozen bills introduced that would prohibit airlines from forcing passengers to give up their seats and add new consumer protections.

David Schaper, NPR News.

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