Lawmakers and officials from Chicago’s City Hall to New Jersey to Washington demanded answers on Tuesday following a United Airlines passenger forcibly dragged from a Louisville bound plane at O’Hare Airport on Sunday in order to free up a seat for a United crew member.
The airline industry is heavily regulated at local, state and federal levels, so officials have considerable leverage over United.
United’s treatment of the passenger, David Dao, triggered a public outrage — leaving the airline with no allies on this one.
A video recorded a bloodied Dao ejected by Chicago Aviation Department police by being dragged down the aisle.
United admitted on Tuesday the flight was not overbooked. Rather, it was a full flight, and United wanted four passengers already in the seats bounced to make room for United crew members. Three left the 70-seat plane on their own.
The role of the city of Chicago aviation police — and why United was able to use them in this dispute — is an aspect of the controversy lawmakers are questioning.
United now faces probes and hearings on multiple fronts and demands that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao take some actions:
CHICAGO CITY COUNCIL
City Council’s Aviation Committee will hold hearings starting Thursday into the incident.
City Council Aviation Committee Chairman Mike Zalewski (23rd), said the incident has been such a black eye for O’Hare and for Chicago’s reputation as a travel hub, aldermen “need answers” from United, from Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans and from the union representing aviation police.
The city currently spends $19 million per year for 292 Aviation Security officers.
Questions have been raised about why only one aviation security officer has been placed on leave when several were involved in the confrontation.
Late Tuesday, the Department of Aviation issued an “updated statement hinting at further disciplinary action.”
“While they do have limited authority to make an arrest, Sunday’s incident was not within standard operating procedures nor will we tolerate that kind of action. That is why we quickly placed the aviation security officer on leave pending a thorough review of the situation,” Aviation Department spokeswoman Karen Pride was quoted as saying. “The action we have taken thus far reflects what we currently know, and as our review continues we will not hesitate to take additional action as appropriate.”
THE HOUSE: Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., said Congress may need to act to make sure United Airlines — or any other carrier — can never again drag a passenger off a plane.
Lipinski is a member of the House Transportation Committee’s Aviation subcommittee. The panel has broad jurisdiction over airlines and almost every other aspect of flying.
Lipinski and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill, wrote to Chao on Tuesday noting that the “flying public” has concerns about “how a mistake that was admittedly the airlines own doing could lead to a violent confrontation between a passenger and law enforcement.”
Lipinski and Davis reminded Chao that Congress will soon be asked “to reauthorize Federal aviation policy” so “we request answers to these questions in order to provide clarity into the situation and to help prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.”
A key question from Lipinski and Davis to Chao: “What specific guidelines or recommendations, if any, does the Department of Transportation provide to airlines in the situation where an airline determines it is necessary to ask passengers who have already boarded to exit the plane in order to accommodate airline crew travel?”
THE SENATE: Illinois Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth were among the 21 senators — all Democrats — telling United CEO Oscar Munoz that they will be “examining” the incident.
Among the key questions the senators asked Munoz in their letter:
• “Is it the policy of United Airlines to use taxpayer-funded law enforcement to forcibly remove paying passengers for non-security reasons?
• “Was the Louisville-bound flight oversold prior to including the four United Airlines personnel reported to have been granted seats to enable them to reposition from Chicago to Louisville?”
Passengers were offered only $800 to get off the plane. United could have offered more and the senators want to know why “the full amount of $1,350 not offered to passengers aboard Flight 3411 before the passengers were involuntarily denied boarding and forcibly removed.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called for a bumping ban in the wake of the United incident, calling it an “abusive practice.” Christie said New Jersey
The New Jersey governor jumped on United because United controls 70 percent of the flights in and out of the Newark Liberty International Airport.
Christie called on the Trump administration “to stand up for our traveling Americans” in his letter to Transportation Chou.
“This conduct is abusive and outrageous,” Christie said in a statement. He also did not buy a late-coming apology, issued Tuesday afternoon, from United CEO Munoz.
“I know the Trump Administration wants to reform regulations to help the American people. This would be a great place to start.”
FEDERAL DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
DOT kicked off its probe of the Sunday incident on Tuesday.
The initial review of the Sunday events on United Airlines Express Flight 3411 will determine if United complied with “the Department’s oversales rule” and other regulations, the department said in a statement.
The review will look “into potential violations of aviation consumer protection and civil rights laws.”
The Chicago Aviation police officer involved in the incident has been put on leave.