United CEO Emails Employees After Controversial Video Prompts Outcry

United said airline representatives chose four passengers at random when no volunteers agreed to leave the overbooked flight. They requested law enforcement assistance when one of them refused to leave

The CEO of United Airlines said he “emphatically” stands behind all of his employees in an email to airline personnel Monday in the wake of outcry over video footage showing a 69-year-old passenger being dragged from his seat on an overbooked flight.

United Chief-Executive-Officer Oscar Munoz wrote in the letter he was “upset” about what happened Sunday on United Express Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville.

“While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clearer picture of what transpired, I’ve included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees,” the email reads.

The email says the situation was “unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help.”

“While I deeply regret this situation arose,” Munoz writes, “I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.”

Munoz says in the email that United employees followed established procedures for dealing with the situations.

He also said treating United customers “with respect and dignity is the core of who we are.”

The letter includes the following bullet-point summary of the incident from United employees “preliminary reports”:

Summary of Flight 3411

• On Sunday, April 9, after United Express Flight 3411 was fully boarded, United’s gate agents were approached by crewmembers that were told they needed to board the flight.

• We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to $1,000 in compensation) and when we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions.

• He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft, and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent.

• Our agents were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight. He repeatedly declined to leave.

• Chicago Aviation Security Officers were unable to gain his cooperation and physically removed him from the flight as he continued to resist - running back onto the aircraft in defiance of both our crew and security officials.

An ASO officer was placed on leave after video showed security officials dragging a passenger from a United Airlines flight at O'Hare International Airport, the Chicago Department of Aviation confirmed Monday. 

"The incident on United flight 3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the Department," a spokesperson for the CDA said in a statement. "That officer has been placed on leave effective today pending a thorough review of the situation."

A United representative confirmed to NBC Chicago Sunday night that a person was removed from Flight 3411 to Louisville, Kentucky, saying it was "overbooked." The airline's CEO has since said it is conducting a review of the situation.

Passenger Audra D. Bridges posted the video on Facebook. It shows the guards grabbing then dragging the passenger down the aisle. Screaming is heard and other passengers say "Oh my God" and "Look at what you did to him."

United said airline representatives chose four passengers at random when no volunteers agreed to leave the overbooked flight. They requested law enforcement assistance when one of them refused to leave.

"One customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate," the statement said.

Bridges says United asked for four passengers to relinquish their seats for airline employees on stand-by.

Bridges' husband, Tyler Bridges, said the passenger seen being hauled from his seat was a doctor who had to be in Louisville in the morning to see patients. He managed to return to the plane after being removed.

"He runs back on — dazed, bloodied, kind of in a mess — yelling 'I have to get home, I have to get home,'" Tyler Bridges told NBC News.

United CEO Oscar Munoz released this statement Monday: "This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation."

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky called on United Airlines to "immediately change their policy and give full restitution and compensation to the victim." 

"This use of excessive force is absolutely unacceptable," Schakowsky said in a statement Monday afternoon. "The response from United Airlines has been brazenly inadequate – their apology over having to ‘re-accommodate’ passengers is completely insulting, and their attempt to pass the buck by blaming the Chicago Police Department for the incident demonstrates that they do not understand the gravity of this incident.

"This is far from the end of the story," she added. 

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