Dr. David Dao — the Kentucky physician forcibly dragged off a United Airlines flight by three Chicago Department of Aviation police officers — has reached an “amicable” settlement with the airline, but financial terms of the deal aren’t being disclosed.
“United has taken full responsibility for what happened on Flight 3411, without attempting to blame others, including the city of Chicago,” Thomas Demetrio, one of Dao’s lawyers, announced Thursday. “For this acceptance of corporate responsibility, United is to be applauded.”
The settlement capped a day in which United released its internal report about the incident and detailed several new policies to deal with overbooked flights, including increasing the amount of compensation to as much as $10,000 that can be offered as an incentive so passengers volunteer to be bumped off an overbooked flight. The airline even sent an email to frequent fliers outlining the changes Thursday evening.
The flurry of developments shows United appears to be getting its house in order as Congress is looking into the April 9 incident that has tarnished the United brand around the globe. United CEO Oscar Munoz and United President Scott Kirby are scheduled to testify before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is also conducting it own ongoing review, and late Wednesday afternoon, that panel received answers from United and the Chicago Department of Aviation in the wake of questions the panel, chaired by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., raised about the use of force to remove Dao.
The fallout from the incident has been considerable not only for the airline, but also Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, which last week began rebranding the aviation police department as a “security” force, stripping the word “police” off officers’ uniforms and their vehicles. Shortly after the settlement came to light, City Hall announced that the aviation department’s security chief, Jeffrey Redding, was fired over an incident unrelated to Dao’s dragging.
The incident began when Dao refused to give up his seat aboard the Louisville-bound United Express flight so a working airline crew member could take his seat. United employees then called police. Three Chicago aviation police officers physically removed him, leaving Dao with a concussion, broken nose and two missing teeth, according to Demetrio.
In Thursday’s statement, Demetrio said Dao became “the unintended champion” for changes in the way airlines treat their customers.
“I sincerely hope that all other airlines make similar changes and follow United’s lead in helping to improve the passenger flying experience with an emphasis on empathy, patience, respect and dignity,” Demetrio said.
United said Flight 3411 was oversold by one ticket, but a volunteer gave up his seat. After passengers boarded, four crew members of Republic Airline, which operates many United Express flights, showed up late after their Louisville-bound plane was delayed by a mechanical problem.
United said it was a mistake to let the Republic crew board late, which required removing four paying passengers; calling officers when there was no safety or security issue, and not offering enough money to entice volunteers to give up their seats.
“We could have spent a lot of $10,000s and made that thing right,” Munoz said.
United said it will reduce overbooking, particularly on flights with a poor track record of finding volunteers to give up their seats, but won’t end the practice. Munoz said if airlines can’t overbook there will be more empty seats and fares will rise. Delta CEO Ed Bastian called overselling flights “a valid business process.”
Rep. Dan Lipinski D-Ill., a member of the House Transportation panel — and on its aviation subcommittee — said he welcomed the new United overbooking policies.
“United has realized there is a major problem,” Lipinksi said, and at the Tuesday hearing panel members will be asking UAL executives why the airline “is still reserving the right to bump someone involuntarily from a flight.”
Contributing: Associated Press