September 20, 2020

United Airlines CEO issues third apology over passenger removal after stock price tumbles


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From ABC News au

The CEO of United Airlines has issued an apology to a passenger after a video of him being forcibly removed from an overbooked plane on Sunday went viral.

Key points:

  • Viral video shows passenger forcibly removed from flight on Sunday
  • United CEO ‘deeply apologises’, announces review of policy
  • Stocks fall 1.13pc, company loses $1 billion in market value

The incident sparked international condemnation and allegations of racism over the airline’s treatment of the Asian man. Shares in the company also took a significant hit.

Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines’ parent company, reversed his previous stance of supporting the passengers’ removal of Flight 3411, saying the airline now took full responsibility for the incident.

Mr Munoz’ first statement, issued midday on Monday, apologised for having to re-accommodate customers and said the incident was “an upsetting event to all of us here at United”.

 In a second statement sent to employees on Monday night, Mr Munoz issued a memo defending the company but not apologising to the passenger

He maintained United employees followed established procedures in dealing with the situation.

Following mounting pressure over his handling of the incident, Mr Munoz ramped up sentiments in another statement sent to employees on Tuesday.

“The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment,” the statement began.

“I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened.

“Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologise to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No-one should ever be mistreated this way.”

Mr Munoz pledged to review the company’s policies for seeking volunteers to give up their seats, for handling oversold flights and for partnering with airport authorities and local law enforcement.

The company plans to share results of the review by April 30.

The viral video showed police officers grabbing the screaming man from a window seat, pulling him across the armrest and dragging him down the aisle by his arms.

The 69-year-old from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, refused to leave the flight, saying he needed to get home to treat patients.

An attorney who represents the man said his client was being treated at a Chicago hospital for injuries he sustained in the incident.

Market value drops $1bn

The apology did not prevent United Continental Holdings Inc stocks from falling 1.13 per cent overnight. The stock is down about 3 per cent for the year.

On Wall Street, UAL’s stock price fell to $US70.70 — down from $US73.80 as recorded at market closure on Friday.

The company shed as much as about $1 billion in market value before ending the day with a loss of about $250 million.

More than 16 million United shares changed hands, the most for any session in a year.

United is also suffering from broader worries among investors about US airline performance.

In the United States, social media outrage continued, with the incident trending on Twitter for the second consecutive day. Many users promoted hashtags #NewUnitedAirlinesMotto and #BoycottUnitedAirlines

On Chinese social media, the incident attracted the attention of more than 480 million users on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.

United has about 20 per cent of total US-China airline traffic and has a partnership with Air China, the country’s third-largest airline, according to analysts.

It flies to more Chinese cities than any other US carrier.

Senate committee deems apology ‘unsatisfactory’

White House press secretary Sean Spicer called the airline’s handling of the incident troubling.

“I don’t think anyone looks at that video and isn’t a little disturbed that another human being is treated that way,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s a circumstance where you can’t sit back and think, ‘this probably could be handled a little bit better’,” Mr Spicer said.

Leaders of a key senate committee have asked United Airlines and Chicago airport authorities to explain what led to the man’s forced removal.


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