United CEO defends actions of staff in viral video, as lawmakers call for investigation

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said the passenger seen in a viral video who was dragged, bloodied off his company’s plane on Sunday had “defied” security officers and had become “disruptive and belligerent,” even as some lawmakers called for an investigation into the incident.

Munoz issued a statement Monday to employees defending the airline’s widely derided actions in forcibly removing a passenger from a Chicago flight bound for Louisville. The man who was taken off the plane has not been named, but he identified himself as a doctor during the debacle and another passenger said the man said he was of Chinese descent. The man was asked to leave in order to accommodate the seating of several United crew members.

“This situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help,” Munoz wrote.

He added: “Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.”


But “respect” and “dignity” were not among the adjectives used by members of Congress who condemned United’s handling of the incident.

“I deplore the violent removal of a passenger from a United Airlines flight this weekend,” Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said in a Monday statement. She was set on Tuesday to call for a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing into the matter, The Washington Examiner reported.

“Airline passengers must have protections against such abusive treatment,” Norton said.

Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., also decried the man’s treatment, with Boyle joining Holmes in calling for an investigation.

“I will not fly #United anymore. Further, it’s time for govt to investigate their repeated abuses toward passengers,” Boyle tweeted.

The incident has become particularly incendiary in China, where, due in part to the passenger’s supposed Chinese heritage, social media lit up after the footage was posted. More than 120 million users of Chinese social media app Weibo had viewed posts hashtagged #UnitedForcesPassengerOffPlane, according to the South China Morning Post.

One user, Qian Qian, wrote: “If you beat your customers, we will thrash your reputation and your market share around the world, until we hear a sincere apology from your bleeding mouth.”

Apologies, however, were not forthcoming in Munoz’s initial statement, in which he gave a summary of the incident, including United workers’ attempts to kick the man off the plane.

“When we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions,” Munoz wrote. “He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft, and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent.”

“Chicago Aviation Security Officers were unable to gain his cooperation and physically removed him from the flight as he continued to resist – running back onto the aircraft in defiance of both our crew and security officials.”

Munoz later issued a public statement saying he apologized "for having to re-accommodate these customers."

A fellow passenger, Tyler Bridges, interviewed on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Monday, said the man initially appealed to United workers, saying he was a doctor and had patients to see the next morning. The next flight to Louisville wasn’t scheduled until 2 p.m. the following afternoon, Bridges said.