United Airlines is receiving a lot of backlash, not just over its inhumane treatment of a customer, who was violently dragged off the plane with blood dripping down his face, but also over the tone-deaf stance that its CEO seems to be taking toward the incredibly disturbing incident.
The videos circulating on the internet show officials at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport forcibly removing a 69-year-old Asian doctor off an overbooked flight. The United staff had originally announced they needed four people to give up their seats so that company employees could board the plane.
When nobody volunteered, the airline selected four people — including the doctor who told them he needed to make the flight to see some patients at his hospital the next day. Instead of listening to his request, the security officers grabbed the passenger, causing him to slam his head against the armrest, and then hauled him off like a rag doll with blood dripping down his face.
As soon as the videos of the ordeal started trending online, United's CEO Oscar Munoz decided to apologize — in a rather cringe-worthy manner, one might add.
United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. pic.twitter.com/rF5gNIvVd0— United (@united) April 10, 2017
The tweet did not go over well with many social media users, who expressed fury over the use of meaningless corporate jargon to trivialize the encounter.
After all, since when does the word “re-accommodate” means “assault”?
@united re-accommodate is some Orwellian language to describe assault.— Bill Stack (@FancySpaceMagic) April 10, 2017
On the use of language. pic.twitter.com/8EfqKXR1jJ— Justin Wolfers (@JustinWolfers) April 10, 2017
Unfortunately, that was just the beginning.
Shortly after the incident, Munoz sent an email to his employees, saying United Airlines staff was “left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers” to remove a “disruptive and belligerent” passenger.
The email, obtained by ABC News, is the perfect example of what victim blaming looks like.
“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 CEO wrote. "This 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. Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this.”
Witnesses’ accounts and several cell phone videos prove the situation was anything but polite. The man was screaming as the officers dragged him away. In one video, the passenger, whose name has not been released, can be repeatedly heard saying ”just kill me” and “I want to go home” after his head injury.
In Munoz’s book, however, the ejected passenger is the guilty one because he refused to give up the seat he paid for just so an airline employee could hitch a ride.
“Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this … While I deeply regret this situation arose, 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,” the missive continued. “I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.”
Munoz also included a bullet-point summary of the incident from the airline employees’ “preliminary reports,” once again making it sound like it was the passenger who was at fault while the staff was just trying to make the situation better for everyone, not the other way around.
Amazing to see the CEO OF UNITED AIRLINES adopt the same "our hands are tied, nothing we can do" tone of a beleaguered gate agent.— Jon Lovett (@jonlovett) April 11, 2017
That internal United letter is gross and does nothing but deflect and abdicate responsibility. So, par for the course.— Tom Shea (@tomshea) April 11, 2017
This letter explains why that United fiasco happened. The CEO thinks it was justified. I wouldn't trust this company with my safety https://t.co/2D5k93dSiz— Rusty Foster (@rustyk5) April 11, 2017
CEO: How should I respond?— Savannah L. Barker (@savannah_lb) April 11, 2017
PR Team: Issue an apology to the passenger & take responsibility for the incident
CEO: Imma victim blame#United
"our employees followed establi..."— darth:™ (@darth) April 11, 2017
i am going to stop u right there oscar https://t.co/YoyRWlAms0
"We offered him money and he refused. Clearly a deranged person who had to be put in his place" https://t.co/UwF2upzmyl— Emily Yoshida (@emilyyoshida) April 11, 2017
As a manager, every 6 months I have to take an HR class with absurd scenarios. I always think "who would do this?" Apparently, United.— Grant Rodiek (@HyperboleGrant) April 10, 2017
New photo of United Airlines asking for volunteers to deplane pic.twitter.com/C0lFRgjf4o— Give Me Internet (@GiveMeInternet) April 10, 2017
United Airlines: this flight is overbooked, we need your seat— Medieval Reactions (@MedievalReacts) April 10, 2017
Paying customer: but I need to get home
United Airlines: pic.twitter.com/1G0uCvXCYH
The statement released by the Chicago Police Department wasn’t much different from Munoz’s.
Chicago PD statement on the United passenger is a model of why so many people don't trust police statements pic.twitter.com/Xs3HjCpJos— Harry Siegel (@harrysiegel) April 10, 2017
The video clip clearly show the passenger did not fall — he was pushed.
So @united sucks. But the Chicago police who dragged the man off the flight are also monsters. Police using unnecessary force, again.— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) April 10, 2017
UNITED EMPLOYEE: Beat this guy up so we can take the thing he paid for.— will weldon (@oldmanweldon) April 10, 2017
LITERALLY THE POLICE: Okay
Craziest (and somehow most predictable) part of the United story: the Chicago Police Department putting out an OBVIOUSLY untrue statement— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) April 10, 2017
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Louis Nastro