IT MAY be time to “re-accommodate” Oscar Munoz, chief executive of United Airlines. He might be “re-accommodated” in a different industry — mixed martial arts, for example, or corrections.
It was Mr. Munoz, formerly hailed as a modern-day corporate mastermind and communications clairvoyant for having spiffed up United’s once-pitiable record of customer service, who apologized for having to “re-accommodate” four passengers on a Chicago-to-Louisville flight Sunday. Never mind that one of the passengers was manhandled and bloodied by airport police, acting at the behest of United personnel, after he declined to be “re-accommodated” by giving up his reserved, paid-for seat. That passenger finally received a full apology Tuesday from Mr. Munoz, 48 hours after he was dragged off the plane with his glasses askew.
Video of that incident, shot by other passengers, instantly went viral, prompting Mr. Munoz’s clueless statement, in which he also promised to reach out to the passenger. The passenger might be within his rights to feel that United had reached out to him quite enough already.
Even as he was tut-tutting at what he called the “upsetting event” on Flight 3411, Mr. Munoz, who has made a great show during his tenure of redefining his airline as a “people business,” was sending an altogether different message internally. Openly blaming the victim, he assured United personnel in a letter, quickly leaked, that “I emphatically stand behind all of you” and that it was the “disruptive and belligerent” passenger who had invited the assault upon him by refusing to yield his seat to one of the airline’s own employees, who needed to get to Louisville.
The victim on Flight 3411 was Asian American, fueling the video’s virality in China, where it has been seized upon by untold millions, at the urging of state media and others, as evidence of anti-Asian bias in the United States and Washington’s hypocrisy on human rights.
It is a fact of life, and of Supreme Court precedent, that airlines may bump passengers from overbooked flights. Usually, passengers go voluntarily, lured by cash or voucher incentives offered by the airline. In some cases, they do not. Scarcely 1 out of every 10,000 United passengers was involuntarily given the heave-ho during a five-year stretch ending last year, according to the Transportation Department.
That may be legal, but there is no excuse for allowing a passenger to be mauled. The airport police officer who dragged the passenger from his seat, suspended for now, should face discipline. And one would have thought that further sweeteners — United had offered compensation worth up to $800 to passengers who agreed to leave the plane and take a flight the following day — might have coaxed one or two more customers from their seats.
Mr. Munoz is now in damage-control mode following his initial ham-handed response, vowing “to fix what’s broken” by reviewing the airline’s policies on summoning police, transferring crew and handling overbooked flights “so this never happens again.” Nice that he plans to avoid a repetition of an event that was utterly avoidable in the first place.