By Gretchen Kelly
United Airlines, which was criticized by the traveling public and industry alike for its treatment of an ejected passenger this week, has finally brought itself to say the “S” word.
Initially, United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz apologized for the scenario that led to the incident heard around the travel world, but not to the passenger whom lawyers now say will required surgery as well as dental work to repair his injuries while being dragged from the plane by law enforcement agents.
On April 11, Munoz issued a statement to his “team” that read in part,
“The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.
“I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement.”
When asked on “Good Morning America” if the passenger whom he had previously called “disruptive and unruly” did anything wrong, Munoz paused a moment and then said a simple, shamefaced, “no.”
Meanwhile, passengers themselves are not buying United’s new prostrate posture and are blaming it on an impending pricey lawsuit.
They are also virally sharing a graphic from Buzzfeed in an article called, “Airlines Don’t Treat You Better Because They Don’t Have To” which shows how mergers have shrunk 11 US domestic airlines to five in the past decade. The recent absorption of Virgin America into Alaska Airlines is another example of this ongoing dynamic–one that isn’t likely to change soon given the political climate and restrictive rules on foreign ownership of airlines.
No matter what Munoz says, airline passengers are still a captive audience and it will take more than apologies to change that.