Our Pledge To You

News

Evans will call United dragging incident ‘personally offensive’

Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans testifies in April before the City Council's aviation committee. | Maria Cardona/Sun-Times

Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans will tell a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Thursday that she is “deeply sorry” for the passenger dragging fiasco involving Dr. David Dao, views the actions of aviation security officers as “personally offensive,” and will make certain it never happens again.

“The events that took place on the night of Sunday, April 9, 2017 were completely unacceptable. And on behalf of the Chicago Department of Aviation, I want to offer Dr. Dao and his family my sincerest apology,” Evans was expected to say in prepared remarks obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

“That a passenger at one of our airports was injured in this way is deeply saddening and personally offensive. That is not how we do business and these actions will not be tolerated . . . . It is imperative that our employees interact with passengers in a manner that not only protects their safety, but also conveys dignity and respect.”

That’s not what happened aboard United Flight 3411.

Summoned by United, three unarmed aviation security officers boarded the plane and dragged a flailing and bloodied Dao down the aisle when the doctor refused to give up his seat for a United crew member who needed to get to Louisville.

The incident left Dao with injuries that his attorneys describe as a broken nose, two chipped teeth and a sinus problem that will require surgery.

Dao has already settled with United for an undisclosed amount. The settlement also includes an agreement not to seek damages from beleaguered Chicago taxpayers.

But the viral video has been a civic embarrassment that could cost the city millions in the long run. It has damaged Chicago’s reputation as an international tourist destination.

On Thursday, Evans will tell the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security that she has placed three aviation security officers and one supervisor on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an “expedited disciplinary investigation” by Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

“Based on my review, the security officers involved in the incident on United Flight 3411 broke from our standard operating procedure and failed to provide Dr. Dao and his family with the respect we demand be given to all of the traveling public flying in and out of Chicago. These actions are not condoned,” Evans was quoted as saying.

“The actions of these officers were not in accordance with the Chicago Department of Aviation’s standard operating procedures. Our policies are clear that force should only be used when absolutely necessary to protect the security and safety of our passengers. Our policy states that ‘the safety of innocent persons and bystanders must be given primary consideration whenever the use of force is contemplated.’ ”

While she “cannot reverse what took place,” Evans will tell senators she is taking action to “ensure this never happens again.”

Policy changes include:

• Effective April 10, a day after Dao was dragged down the aisle, unarmed aviation security officers “no longer board aircraft unless there is an immediate medical issue or imminent physical threat on board.”

• Standardizing a policy implemented by United that states that neither the Chicago Police Department nor aviation security officers will be “called to aircraft to deal with any customer service matters, including overbooking situations.”

• Internal changes impacting how calls are dispatched through the O’Hare Communications Center to ensure that Chicago Police officers “will be lead responders for disturbances onboard aircraft.”

Evans will also say she is in the “final stage” of hiring an “international security expert to partner with” the Department of Aviation in conducting a “comprehensive review of our security program, including policies, procedures, staff functions, facilities and technology.”

The goal is to make certain that O’Hare and Midway are “not only meeting current best practices, but also thinking forward and positioning ourselves to respond to the ever-changing security environment.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he would await the outcome of that broader investigation before deciding whether the $19 million-a-year, 292 employee-strong force of unarmed aviation security officers should continue to exist.

In the meantime, Evans has moved to strip the word “police” from their badges, uniforms and vehicles.

Earlier this week, United Airlines took its turn on the political hot seat.

The U.S. House hearing became a forum for customer service complaints by frequent-flying members of Congress.

But the seat occupied by United CEO Oscar Munoz wasn’t nearly as hot as it might have been if United hadn’t already settled with Dao and implemented policy changes aimed at diffusing the situation.

They include raising the compensation for passengers involuntarily bumped off of flights to as high as $10,000.

On Thursday, Chicago’s $300,000 a year aviation commissioner will take her turn on the political hot seat and hope that the actions she announces are also enough to diffuse the situation.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this week that four of Chicago’s top airport security jobs are now vacant — a void that raises even more questions about the already murky state of security at O’Hare and Midway.

The high-level vacancies include Jeff Redding, who was fired last week; two deputies who had been working under him; and the managing deputy commissioner of security, who was supposed to be Redding’s boss.

Evans’ prepared testimony makes no mention of the leadership vacuum or the commissioner’s behind-the-scenes complaint that the vacancies are hampering her ability to investigate the passenger-dragging incident. She also has complained that, in some cases, the salaries for the jobs are too low to lure top talent away from other major airports.