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United Airlines

Oscar Munoz: Dr. David Dao Incident a “Dark Moment” for United Airlines

Oscar Munoz: Dr. David Dao Incident a “Dark Moment” for United Airlines
Jeff Edwards

 

In a new episode of Bloomberg Television’s “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations,” United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz explains how the violent dragging of a passenger from an overbooked flight and the death of a dog placed in a plane’s overhead bin by a cabin crew member led to a much needed cultural change at the legacy carrier.

It’s often said that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but the incident in April of last year in which a 69-year-old physician was dragged from his seat on a United Airlines Express flight in order to make room for employees traveling on company business led to unprecedented public backlash against the airline. Less than a year later, the carrier was again the focus of near universal outrage when it was reported that a puppy died after a United Airlines flight attendant ordered the owner to place the animal in an overhead bin before a cross-country flight.

It wouldn’t be surprising if United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz would rather forget these black marks on his brief tenure at the helm of the airline, but the airline executive told Bloomberg Television’s David Rubenstein that quite the opposite is the case in a recent installment of “Peer-to-Peer Conversations” which aired this week. He says, instead, that keeping those debacles in the forefront of his mind have helped to shape a major cultural change at the airline.

“It’s one of the dark moments,” Munoz told the television host when questioned about the Dr. David Dao incident. “Usually the question is, ‘Are you glad that’s getting behind you?’ and I always say, ‘No, I’m happy to be reminded of it every day,’ and so is our company, because it’s important to know how quickly things can go sideways on us.”

Later in the show (which was taped on June 7), Munoz explained how the April 2018 incident at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and the latest incident in which a passenger’s 10-month-old puppy died as a result of a flight attendant’s apparent indifference, led to a shift in the way the airline operates. He said that safety will always be an employee’s top concern, but that customer care has now taken priority over other operational concerns.

“The rigor and discipline around safety and security and operations doesn’t necessarily apply to the comfort and the quality and the emotional connection as a human on the customer service,” the CEO noted. “So, with our rules and procedures, you can’t put always rules and procedures on how you treat another human.”

Munoz says since the highly publicized customer service failures of the past several months, United employees have been empowered to put a passenger’s well-being above other operational concerns (except where safety is concerned). He said the new focus on caring could very well mean a kinder, gentler United Airlines.

“It could mean a lot of things,” he added. “But it doesn’t mean shutting the door. It doesn’t mean yanking someone off a plane. It doesn’t mean any of those things.”

[Photo: United Airlines]

View Comments (5)

5 Comments

  1. Calchas

    August 27, 2018 at 7:03 am

    You cannot change the culture of an 88,000 person organisation in sixteen months. I’m glad the CEO is evincing that a cultural change is necessary, but it takes years and probably a decade to build a positive culture.

  2. eng3

    August 27, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    I agree the culture of UA is poor and it is difficult to change, but this incident has almost nothing to do with it. It has to do with UA’s extremely poor PR department. And an idiot “doctor” who decides he is above everyone else and doesn’t need to follow decades old policies. He gets in a fight with “police” and ends up the hero with a big payday. Reducing overbooking just means we all pay a little more for our tickets. Preventing crew from getting to their flights just means more cancellations and delays. But no one cares if everyone gets hurt. They only care if its a viral video that affects one idiot. Truly a dark day for the world that this is how our society operates.

  3. FlyingNone

    August 27, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    Can’t believe he has no concern for employees and completely flip-flops and sides with the passengers – WHO WERE DEAD WRONG. The stupid woman with the dog did not declare the dog – ergo the flight attendant did not know the dog was in a NON-COMPLIANT PET CARRIER and therefore demanded the bag be stowed properly. No FA in their right mind would have told her to put a dog in the overhead bin…….and who just leaves a dog there while it barks and whimpers in distress ?? — you would immediately remove it !! As far as “Doctor” Dao, he agreed to get off and then changed his mind, ran back on, and that’s when the stubborn mule caused all the ruckus. Airline executives need to pay attention and side with their employees, not reward bad and stupid behavior with a undeserved monetary settlements.

  4. jamar

    August 27, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    @eng3-

    Like I’ve heard many people say, many times, when things get physical, the first party to get physical should absolutely bear the blame for it all. Reducing overbooking shouldn’t lead to paying more for tickets if our market was competitive enough that there is pressure not to. And just as it’s not the airline’s responsibility if the passenger doesn’t have things together to make it to their flight, it shouldn’t be the passenger’s responsibility to make way for crew members being squeezed in at the last minute. Or combine the two and maybe you’d have the room to squeeze in crew members at the last minute if it came down to it by not overbooking and leaving with empty seats each flight. Or take the Delta approach and offer ever-escalating offers until someone gives. Someone will, once you get into the thousands.

  5. 777 global mile hound

    August 31, 2018 at 12:22 am

    Despite these unfortunate incidents past & present culture can’t ever be improved or fixed just because you issue higher dollar bump vouchers and talk about it
    Actions always speaks louder than any regret or words
    It starts @ the top at Excecutive Headquarters with customer friendly policies & solutions are created and executed
    and spreads to the front lines where agents are empowered to offer reasonable solutions to fix most any United created problems
    You start with a phone number (currently disconnected) where a customer with lost bags or any issue at all can get through to someone and get immediate assistance to solve problems
    You can’t build loyalty with customers who for decades have been wronged or harmed
    I’ can’t think of a business that could get away with the stuff the legacy carriers repeatedly get away with
    I would suggest they study Alaska one of handful of carriers I ran to after years of elite status at UA and American and taken advantage of
    I trust Alaska to recover from most anything that arises
    I will pay higher fares and connect through almost any city when I can as I know they have my back

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