— -- United Airlines will cut back on overbooking and develop an automated system to gauge customers' interest in voluntary, compensated bumping at check-in, the airline announced today after a review of an April 9 incident in which a passenger dragged off an aircraft. Following in Delta's footsteps, United will increase its incentive payment cap for voluntary denied boarding to $10,000.
"Every customer deserves to be treated with the highest levels of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect," embattled CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement. "Two weeks ago, we failed to meet that standard. Today, we are taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right."
In one of the airline's biggest PR fiascoes to date, passengers on board a United aircraft still at the gate at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport recorded fellow passenger David Dao wrenched from his seat and dragged down the aisle of Flight 3411 after refusing to deplane to make room for crew members needed in Louisville.
According to documents obtained by ABC News, Dao and his wife initially expressed interest United's offer to bump passengers in exchange for an $800 voucher but declined after learning they were not guaranteed a flight the same day.
When none of their fellow passengers volunteered for reaccommodation, the Daos were informed they had been selected to involuntarily surrender their seats. They refused, and a United supervisor summoned security officers.
Described in aviation department reports as "aggressive" and "combative," David Dao repeatedly rejected officers' orders to exit, saying, "I don't care if I get arrested."
According to the reports, when officers attempted to extricate him from his seat, he allegedly flailed his arms, hitting his mouth on an armrest during the struggle. Because he "would not stand up," a Chicago aviation official said in one report, officers removed him "by dragging him."
After his forcible removal, Dao ran back onto the aircraft — his face apparently bloody — and was removed once again a short time later via stretcher.
After the altercation went viral, four Chicago aviation officers were placed on paid administrative leave.
"Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: Our policies got in the way of our values," Munoz said in a statement distributed today alongside a report from the incident review. "Our customers should be at the center of everything we do, and these changes are just the beginning of how we will earn back their trust."
In the days after the incident, United pledged to never again summon law enforcement to forcibly remove a paying customer from an aircraft, except for security reasons — a promise reiterated in today's report.
The report outlined 10 policy changes resulting from the Dao incident, including some previously reported by ABC:
- Law enforcement officers will not be asked to remove customers from United flights unless it is a matter of safety and security.
- Customers already seated on a plane will not be required to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.
- Beginning Friday, April 28, maximum compensation for voluntary denied boarding will be increased to $10,000.
- A "customer solutions team" will be established by June to provide gate agents with creative solutions. It will explore putting passengers and flight crews on flights to nearby airports, using other airlines or providing ground transportation.
- Crews must be booked on flights at least 60 minutes before departure
- Gate agents will undergo additional annual training beginning in August on difficult situations.
- An automated check-in process will be introduced later this year that will "gauge a customer's interest in giving up his or her seat on overbooked flights in exchange for compensation."
- Overbooking will be reduced, particularly on smaller aircraft and the last flights of the day.
- An "in the moment" app will be launched for flight attendants by July and gate agents later this year that will allow them to give customers miles or other compensation immediately after a service problem occurs.
- Customers will be paid at least $1,500 for any permanently lost bag.
Involuntary denial of boarding incidents like Dao's are among the most difficult situations for gate agents and other employees, United said in the report.
According to company statistics submitted to the Department of Transportation, the vast majority of passengers denied boarding gave up their seats voluntarily, in exchange for travel vouchers or other incentives. Less than 1 in 23,000 customers is involuntarily denied boarding, the airline said, and many of those are kept off the plane because of weight restrictions, aircraft downsizing or security concerns. Only a handful are kept from boarding because of overbooking or crew positioning issues, according to United.
Dao's flight was overbooked and had crew positioning issues, United said in its report. (Previously, United disputed reports that the flight was overbooked, saying the incident stemmed only from crew movement problems.) One passenger who had not yet received a seat assignment was involuntarily bumped before boarding, and two more were booted from their seats to make room for United crew members displaced from another flight by maintenance issues.
"This has been a defining moment for our United family," the report said. "It is our responsibility — our mission — to make sure we all learn from this experience."