United CEO faces Congress after dragging of passenger

Dr Dao is dragged from the flight

Dr Dao is dragged from the flight

The United Airlines chief executive, Oscar Munoz, has told a congressional committee that an incident in which a passenger was forcibly removed from a flight, prompting a blizzard of bad publicity, was a "mistake of epic proportions".

"Something is broken", Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said at the start of the hearing.

Chicago-based United said Thursday it will take a series of step to reduce overbooking of flights and will raise to $10,000 the limit on payments to customers who give up seats on oversold flights.

"If the market was functioning well, this could never happen, Mr. Munoz", he said.

"Seize this opportunity because if you don't, we're going to come, and you're not going to like it", Shuster said.

Munoz defended United's overbooking policy during the hearing, arguing that it helps the airline better serve passengers.

The hearing at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee broke little new ground as airlines explained how they are striving to reduce bumping of passengers from flights and selling more tickets than seats on planes.

United has taken a series of steps to reduce overbooking of flights since the incident and will raise to 10,000 USA dollars (£7,740) the limit on payments to customers who give up seats on oversold flights, Mr Munoz said. Munoz also promised to improve employee training. He said it should be based on the last person to show up to the gate instead of an automated system.

"We called law enforcement when a safety or security issue did not exist", he said.

Airline executives said competition has intensified over the years, despite the merger wave that began in the prior decade.

The Pennsylvania Republican emphasized that while he's "not in favor of re-regulation" of the industry, Congress "won't hesitate to act" if airlines don't improve customer service. "What we can not do is continue to leave it to the airlines to decide what rights they will confer in their contracts of carriage".

"How many people have the patience to do that?"

Shuster said "something is broken" with US airlines and "the obvious divide between passengers and the airlines needs to be addressed".

"Ours is too long", said Joseph Sprague, senior vice president of external relations for Alaska. That event involved a confrontation between an American Airlines flight attendant who tried to pull a baby stroller away from a passenger who was holding her baby. There has always been a push in Congress to stop air carriers from charging those fees.

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"You may think you're looking at members of Congress", said Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes of the District of Columbia.

These new single-aisle aircraft will go into use later this year and will primarily be flown on routes in North America. They said passengers are at the mercy of the airlines.

But when pressed by DeFazio, the airlines admitted that there is no direct cost for the process of having to switch a flight.

The airline has settled a lawsuit and announced policy changes, including boosting the amount of money staff can offer passengers to take a different flight.

"We all know it's a awful experience, starting from the minute I go on the computer to try to figure out which flight I want to take".

Terming the airlines "monopolies" due to consolidation within the industry, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate for Washington, D.C., asked why the airlines' "contract of carriage", their agreement with customers, was so complicated - and couldn't be boiled down to a single page.

Representatives from Southwest and American Airlines joined Munoz at the witness table Tuesday as the United CEO detailed policy changes the airline adopted after cellphone footage of the Dao incident on April 9 went viral. "And we understand that".

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