Congressman to United Airlines CEO: ‘what happened on United Airlines flight 3411 cannot happen again’

May 2, 2017 Issues: Transportation

Congressman to United Airlines CEO: 'what happened on United Airlines flight 3411 cannot happen again'

  • San Juan Islander
  • 5/2/2017
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-02), the top-Ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Aviation, May 2,  2017 helped lead a hearing examining customer service problems associated with US airlines. Today’s hearing follows the forcible removal of a passenger from United Airlines Flight 3411, an incident which became a flashpoint in the relationship between US airlines and the flying public.
 
“Mr. Munoz, I want to make clear to you and all of the other airlines, including those who are not here, what happened on United Express 3411 cannot happen again,” said Larsen. “We’re here to discuss what went wrong and how such a scenario can be prevented from happening again. The incident that took place on April 9 was a result of United Airlines’ policy failures – failures your company took steps to recognize last week. But in truth these problems are not specific to United. Several of the airlines represented here today have recognized room for improvements in their own bookings, overbooking, and other policies. and have announced changes in the recent weeks. I’m hopeful these changes result in an enhanced focus on the paying customer going forward and better training and empowerment of front line employees who must apply the changes in their interactions with passengers.”
 
Larsen went on to highlight efforts he is leading with Ranking Member DeFazio to enhance consumer protections: “this morning, Ranking Member DeFazio and I request that the GAO dive deeper into consumer protections for airline passengers. Understanding current protections and then identifying any gaps will be critical as we develop meaningful improvements in consumer protections for the flying public. Earlier this year Ranking Member DeFazio and I introduced legislation to address two surefire ways that ruin someone’s flight: unexpected fees and lengthy delays. The Know Before You Fly Act would ensure that airlines remain transparent when it comes to baggage fees and would require airlines to inform passengers at the time of ticket purchase what they will and will not do for passengers in the event of a widespread computer network failure.” A copy of today’s letter is available HERE.
 
Last month, Larsen and DeFazio requested that the U.S. Department of Transportation share any findings from the agency’s review of the April 9th incident on United Airlines Flight 3411. In March, Larsen and DeFazio introduced the Know Before You Fly Act, legislation that would direct airlines to be more transparent about what services will be provided to air travelers during mass flight delays and cancellations resulting from computer network failures, as well as require airlines to inform passengers about any baggage and ancillary fees at the front end of the transaction.
 
In July of 2016, a provision Larsen championed that requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to update long-delayed standards for airplane lavatory access among passengers with disabilities was included in the bipartisan agreement to extend the Federal Aviation Administration through September 30, 2017.
 
Below is a transcript Rep. Larsen’s Q&A with United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz. You can watch the full exchange HERE.
 
Rep. Larsen: Mr. Munoz, I’m not quite satisfied with the answer you gave to Mr. Duncan earlier so I just want to explore it. The question asked of you was whether United used law enforcement at all to remove a person for overbooking and you talked about safety and security twice in response to the question. So it seemed to either be a pat answer or I don’t know... So let me be specific, has United this year removed anyone using security personnel, strictly on an overbooking issue?
 
Oscar Munoz: I am not aware of any specific instance where law enforcement has removed some people for that particular oversold situation.
 
Rep. Larsen: That’s clear. Can I ask you, are you able to tell us what United management or the site manager communicated to law enforcement that day regarding the customer on United 3411? Did they say this person is disruptive and needs to be removed, or did they say this person won’t take eight hundred dollars and needs to be removed?
 
Oscar Munoz: It wasn’t nearly as specific as that. I think the failed policy and procedure that we have is that after the attempt to incentivize a customer with that amount, and other amounts, the protocol, the policy, called for asking for assistance from local law enforcement, and that’s wrong.
 
Rep. Larsen: Then what change have you made in your policy with regard to that?
 
Oscar Munoz: Well first of all the eight hundred dollars, for instance, can go up to ten thousand. Offering alternative solutions for that passenger to fly, because it’s not just about money for some folks, we had kids on that flight, people… it’s how do I get to my destination? And then of course what we did is that we will no longer have law enforcement de-board anyone that’s already been boarded on our aircraft.
 
Rep. Larsen: Thanks. … you made your problem the customer’s problem in this particular case. So I think hearing from you all how you’re not making problems you have about getting your staff somewhere and putting the solution on the customer to solve your problem by getting staff somewhere, and that goes I think for everyone.
 
Oscar Munoz: I couldn’t agree with you more, absolutely. Which is why our crewmembers, unless they check in sixty minutes before check in, they will not be allowed to do what happened, what actually triggered this whole event. Absolutely agree with you.
 
Rep. Larsen: One last question for the record for United Airlines, could you guys get back to us and explain to us why this particular issue on April 9th was not an overbooking issue? You keep saying it wasn’t an overbooking issue. The customer and every customer, and everybody who watched it online saw it as an overbooking issue.
 
Oscar Munoz: I’m happy to get back to you.