Friday, November 24, 2017
Business

With United CEO Munoz on the hot seat, lawmakers tell airlines: Improve or we'll step in

RECOMMENDED READING


WASHINGTON — Frustrated Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday warned top airline executives to improve customer services or face congressional intervention after a passenger was dragged from a United Airlines flight in an incident the company's chief executive called a "mistake of epic proportions."

House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said carriers should use the notoriety of last month's forcible removal of a passenger to make long-needed improvements. If the airlines don't make changes, Congress is likely to step in, Shuster and other lawmakers said.

"Seize this opportunity," Shuster told United CEO Oscar Munoz and other airline executives at a hearing.

Otherwise, "we're going to act and you're not going to like it," he said, predicting a "one-size-fits-all" solution that may serve some airlines but not all.

Shuster provided no specifics on what steps Congress would take. Several members of Congress have introduced legislation to ban the bumping of passengers if flights are overbooked.

Munoz apologized repeatedly for the April 9 incident in which passenger David Dao was forcibly removed from a flight, causing a concussion, broken nose and other injuries. Munoz vowed to do better as he and other airline executives faced tough questions from lawmakers.

"It was a mistake of epic proportions, clearly, in hindsight," Munoz told a congressional hearing. He said Dao, a Kentucky physician, was treated in a way that no customer - or individual - should be treated, calling it a "terrible experience" that should never be repeated.

United has taken a series of steps to reduce overbooking of flights since the incident and will raise to $10,000 the limit on payments to customers who give up seats on oversold flights, Munoz said. The airline also said it will improve employee training.

"This is a turning point for United, and our 87,000 professionals," a contrite Munoz said. "It is my mission to ensure we make the changes needed to provide our customers with the highest level of service and the deepest sense of respect."

The hearing by the House Transportation Committee comes amid worldwide outrage sparked when Dao was dragged off the flight after refusing to give up his seat to a crew member. The incident ignited a debate about poor service and a lack of customer-friendly policies on U.S. airlines.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., said United put its own needs ahead of customers as it forced Dao off the flight to accommodate a crew member who wanted to take the flight to work another flight the next day.

"You made your problem the customer's problem," Larsen said.

Munoz told Larsen he "couldn't agree more" and said United has changed its policies so passengers will never be removed from a flight once they are seated unless there is a security or safety issue

United moved to head off criticism last week by reaching a settlement with Dao and issuing new policies designed to prevent customer-service failures. United and lawyers for Dao have declined to disclose financial terms of the settlement.

Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., called the changes announced by United a good start, but said, "It's got to be more than press releases. It's got to be changes in policies and practices."

United President Scott Kirby joined Munoz at the hearing, along with top executives of American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

Dao's attorney has praised the airline and Munoz for accepting responsibility and not blaming others, including the city of Chicago, whose airport security officers yanked Dao from his seat and dragged him off the United Express plane.

Dao was waiting to fly to Louisville, Kentucky, on April 9 when the airline decided it needed four seats for Republic Airline crew members who needed to travel to work on another United Express flight in Louisville the next morning. When Dao and his wife were selected for bumping, he refused to leave.

Video of the incident has sparked more than two weeks of withering criticism and mockery of United. Munoz initially blamed Dao, but later said he was horrified by the event and called it a failure on United's part.

United has vowed to reduce - but not eliminate - overbooking, which occurs when more tickets are sold than there are seats on the plane.

Comments
Black Friday still a brick-and-mortar experience for some

Black Friday still a brick-and-mortar experience for some

TAMPA — Standing in a frantic line at Best Buy on Thanksgiving, one young woman beat the system when she showed off the receipt for her new TV, which she had just purchased on her phone. She was waiting to pick it up."I didn’t know you could do that,...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Woman, 51, robbed in Tyrone Square Mall parking lot, police say

ST. PETERSBURG — A woman was robbed after a man followed her to her car in a mall parking lot Thursday night and shot once at her, police said. The 51-year-old woman, whose identity St. Petersburg police are withholding, was not injured. She was walk...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Take steps against holiday fraud with private WiFi, fraud alerts

Take steps against holiday fraud with private WiFi, fraud alerts

The holiday shopping season bring hosts of discounts and deals, but it also brings something less cheery — fraud. According to a forecast by ACI Worldwide, a payment processing company, retailers are expected to see a 30 percent jump in fraud this ye...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Fourth Street’s mom and pop motels are a dying breed

Fourth Street’s mom and pop motels are a dying breed

ST. PETERSBURG — Billboards as far north as Tennessee beckoned tourists by the thousands to St. Petersburg’s Fourth Street calling it "the longest motel street in the world" in the 1940s and ’50s. There were 95 motels between the Gandy Bridge and Cen...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Suburban-bound millennials and other 2018 housing trends to watch

Suburban-bound millennials and other 2018 housing trends to watch

What’s ahead for real estate in 2018? Zillow economists put their heads together and offered up a laundry list of forecasts and predictions. The chief one to remember? Inventory shortages of homes for sale which challenged the market in 2017 will pe...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Across country, small retailers aim for emotional ties big chains may lack

Across country, small retailers aim for emotional ties big chains may lack

Associated PressSome smaller retailers will tug at shoppers’ heartstrings during the holidays, trying to create an emotional experience or connection that a big national chain might not provide.Store owners are going well beyond the usual holiday dec...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Inkwood Books among retailers banking on ‘Small Business Saturday’

Inkwood Books among retailers banking on ‘Small Business Saturday’

TAMPA — By Tuesday evening, at least 50 cardboard boxes were still stacked against the shop’s wall, each labeled clearly with a black sharpie. "Biographies" "Pets" "Fiction" "Music" While the front of the store and new children’...
Updated: 7 hours ago
As Tampa Bay economy matures, more key people bear watching. Let’s get started.

As Tampa Bay economy matures, more key people bear watching. Let’s get started.

What’s coming down the economic pike for Tampa Bay? Who’s driving this metro economy into 2018 and beyond? Change — people, issues, business focus — can be a good thing. It keeps places like geographically challenged Tampa Bay nimble with fresh blood...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Six years and counting: Allegiant Air reaches agreement with flight attendants

Six years and counting: Allegiant Air reaches agreement with flight attendants

ST. PETERSBURG — After six years of negotiations, Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air and its flight attendants union reached a tentative contract to improve worker pay and benefits and solidify airline policies."We feel like it’s an agreement that is cert...
Published: 11/22/17
Workers at luxury St. Pete condo tower say they are owed thousands

Workers at luxury St. Pete condo tower say they are owed thousands

ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly three dozen workers at ONE St. Petersburg, a luxury condo tower under construction in the heart of downtown, haven’t been paid in weeks and are owed thousands of dollars.With the holidays nearing, some of the men say they are ...
Published: 11/22/17