By Ryan Craggs. Photos: Getty.
After massive public shaming for having a passenger violently dragged off a plane last weekend, United Airlines fully apologized for the incident on Tuesday, with CEO Oscar Munoz vowing the company would conduct "an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement." Two days later, United announced a change in its security policies—but it's not entirely clear how the company will implement said changes.
According to a statement issued Thursday, United "will not ask law enforcement officers to remove passengers from our flights unless it is a matter of safety and security." However, the airline's contract of carriage does not list at what point an involuntary denial of boarding becomes matter of safety and security in its fine print. When reached by Traveler for clarification, a United spokesperson referred back to the statement as the official word. Additionally, it's unclear if the passenger-dragging incident will affect change throughout the industry, as airlines do not spell out these policies in their contracts of carriage, and neither American nor Delta responded to requests for comment on whether their policies would change to the Los Angeles Times.
Along with the alleged change in policy, United laid out other points of emphasis to improve customer relations, saying it had "started a thorough review of policies that govern crew movement, incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement." A huge part of the backlash directed at United came not only from a passenger being physically manhandled, but also in the airline's policies surrounding overbooking and the involuntary denied boardings, which has long been an industry standard practice, but only garnered attention because of the violent incident on United flight 3411.
On top of that, United said it would "fully review and improve our training programs to ensure our employees are prepared and empowered to put our customers first," and that the airline would "communicate the results of our review and the actions we will take by April 30." No further details were offered on exactly what that process would entail—you'll just have to mark April 30 on your calendar to see what changes, if any, come from this bout of bad press.
As pointed out by a number of outlets, including CNN, United's policy self-audit appears to be part of a plan to mitigate the damaging effects of this week's events on United as a brand. Aside from the viral videos, the airline also drew criticism after it took two days to fully apologize, which led lambasting on social media, late-night comedy sketches, and threats by frequent fliers to cut up their membership cards. Munoz's apology in full could conceivably help make this a "short kind of hit," but it'll be well past the self-imposed April 30 deadline before the lasting effects become clear.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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