In an extraordinary email to the company, United’s CEO defended the decision to forcibly remove the paying customer, saying that staff were “left with no choice”.
Footage of the incident, which involved a man being violently dragged off a flight booked to Louisville, sparked outrage.
The passenger can be seen in videos bleeding and disorientated.
Oscar Munoz said in the email yesterday: “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.”
He said that, after staff realised the flight was overbooked, “we sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process”.
He continued: “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.
“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.
“Our agents were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight. He repeatedly declined to leave.
“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.”
Videos of the incident led to a Chicago Department of Aviation Security officer being placed on paid leave.
“The incident on United flight 3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned,” aviation department spokeswoman Karen Pride said.
“That officer has been placed on leave effective today pending a thorough review of the situation.”
According to date from the Department of Transportation, 552,000 passengers were denied boarding by major US carriers in 2015.
Of these, 46,000 were “involuntarily” denied boarding.
A firsthand account from a passenger on the aircraft described in greater detail what unfolded.
In a post that has been widely shared on social media, a passenger said that the incident was “extremely hard to watch and children were crying during and after the event”.
The eyewitness said that after the passenger was dragged off the plane “they lost the man in the terminal”.
“He ran back on the plane covered in blood shaking and saying that he had to get home over and over.
“I wonder if he did not have a concussion at this point. They then kicked everybody off the plane to get him off a second time and clean the blood out of the plane.”
The customer said that the entire incident took about two and a half hours.
Outrage over the incident has been fuelled by accusations that the passenger was removed from the flight because he appeared to be of Asian origin.
This has led many in China to share their disgust on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
Petitions to boycott United Airlines were also going viral on WeChat, a popular messaging service, The Washington Post reports.
Munoz released a statement earlier Monday in which he apologised for having to “re-accommodate these customers.”
Passenger Audra Bridges, who filmed what happened from her seat, said the airline wanted to remove passengers so a standby crew, who had to be in Louisville the next day, could be seated.
They initially asked for volunteers but when no one came forward, a computer randomly selected four people. A couple was chosen and agreed to go but when the man in the video was called, he refused to move.
He said he was a doctor who was due to see patients in Louisville the next morning.
As the man is pulled from his seat, he hits the arm rest of the seat across the aisle and appears to have been knocked out as he is dragged away.
In footage of the incident, the passenger was dragged down the aisle with a bloodied lip, one woman shouts: “This is wrong. Oh my God, look at what you did to him.”
The same woman had earlier asked why the standby crew could not be driven to Louisville.
Munoz’s leaked email to employees defending the actions has been widely criticised.
Just weeks before Sunday’s shocking incident, Munoz received PRWeek’s “communicator of the year” award.
He was given the honour in March for his work over the past year to “better engage with employees and customers”.
This latest incident comes just weeks after United Airlines was publicly shamed for prohibiting girls in leggings from boarding an aircraft.
Author: Kathryn Snowdon