United Prepares for a Second Congressional Grilling Over Passenger Dragging Incident
May 4, 2017
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  • United Airlines will be back in the hot seat on Thursday when the U.S. Congress holds its second hearing this week to examine the circumstances surrounding the forced removal of a passenger from a Chicago flight last month.

    United President Scott Kirby was to join Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Ginger Evans at a U.S. Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing into the state of airline travel, following the high-profile dragging of a 69-year-old passenger from a United flight on April 9.

    Amid looming threats of increased oversight of the largely deregulated industry, United (UAL, +0.36%)hopes to impress the panel that the U.S. sector can best regulate its own practices, including implementing enough customer service-minded changes to improve passenger satisfaction.

    Also slated to testify on Thursday are Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, and Sharon Pinkerton, an official at the airline trade group Airlines for America.

    At a tense Tuesday hearing held by a U.S. House of Representatives committee, lawmakers threatened United and other carriers with legislation aimed at improving customer service.

    Top airline executives promised to address customer service failures at the hearing, held to consider ways to address passenger frustrations with problems such as overbooking.

    Despite lawmakers’ warnings, airlines on Tuesday breathed a sigh of relief that no immediate plans were outlined to tighten regulations on the industry.

    Last month, United faced international scorn when video circulated showing a paying passenger, David Dao, being dragged from his seat on United Flight 3411 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport to make room for airline employees.

    In initial statements, United Chief Executive Oscar Munoz stoked outrage for declining to apologize to Dao for his treatment at the hands of airport security.

    Munoz has since reversed course, apologizing repeatedly to United customers and to Dao, with whom United last week reached a settlement for an undisclosed sum.

    After Tuesday’s hearing, Munoz said the message that change was needed was loud and clear.

    “I think the sense in the room was one of an admonition to get your collective stuff together,” Munoz told reporters at the Capitol. The alternative was to face additional legislation, “which I think is fair,” he added.

    In response to the dragging incident, United has changed its policies by pledging to reduce the amount it overbooks its flights and offering passengers who voluntarily forfeit their seats on oversold flights up to $10,000.