U.S. lawmakers press United on man dragged off plane

  • In US
  • 2017-05-02 14:35:59Z
  • By By David Shepardson and Alana Wise

By David Shepardson and Alana Wise

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers harshly criticized United Airlines Inc <UAL.N> on Tuesday, demanding answers from the carrier's apologetic chief executive after a passenger was dragged off an overbooked flight last month.

United CEO Oscar Munoz's appearance before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was a test of how the Republican-led Congress would respond to an incident that enraged air passengers across the country.

Republicans largely back President Donald Trump's push to undo rules and regulations they say hamper business growth. But Committee Chairman Bill Shuster told airline executives that Congress will take action if airlines do not act and added they "would not like the outcome."

Shuster said the airlines owe the public answers. "Something is broken," he said.

The hearing opened with a litany of complaints about air travel from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, many of whom travel back and forth to their districts weekly.

Munoz apologized again and took responsibility for a series of problems that led to the incident. He first apologized on April 11 in a letter to employees.

"In that moment for our customers and our company we failed, and so as CEO, at the end of the day, that is on me," Munoz told lawmakers.

"This has to be a turning point."

Munoz was joined at the hearing by United President Scott Kirby and executives from American Airlines <AAL.O>, Southwest Airlines <LUV.N> and Alaska Airlines <ALK.N>.

Consumer anger at cost-cutting airlines boiled over when David Dao, 69, was dragged from a United flight at a Chicago airport on April 9 to make room for crew members.

Fellow passengers recorded the incident, sparking backlash against the airline, which initially resisted taking blame.

United reached a settlement with Dao last week and changed its policies by reducing overbooked flights and offering passengers who give up their seats up to $10,000. The airline has promised to no longer call on law enforcement officers to deny ticketed passengers their seats.

Southwest said last week it would end overbooking altogether. The company will tell Congress it expects denied boarding incidents will fall 80 percent as a result of the change.

Alaska Airlines told the committee it is considering changes to its overbooking. But American Airlines said it would not end the practice.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Monday that Trump would not, at this point, weigh in on whether new airline regulations are needed.

"I'll leave it up to Congress to decide whether it's appropriate to address this legislatively. Once there was a piece of legislation, then we could have an opportunity to weigh in," Spicer said on Monday.

But it is unclear how any new legislation would square with Trump's deregulatory push.

Shortly after he took office, Trump directed federal agencies to do away with two old regulations for every new one. He asked airline executives in February to identify regulatory hurdles.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Amanda Becker in Washington; writing by Roberta Rampton and Amanda Becker; Editing by Mary Milliken and Meredith Mazzilli)


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