United Airlines CEO in the hot seat

Olive Rios
May 13, 2017

The hearing by the House Transportation Committee comes five days after United Airlines reached a settlement with the passenger, David Dao, who was forcibly removed from a United flight on April 9 after refusing to give up his seat to a crew member.

United CEO Oscar Munoz (1st L) testifies before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on customer service policies on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the United States, on May 2, 2017.

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).

"I was appalled at your comments at first", Congressman Lloyd Smucker, R-Pa., told Munoz during the Tuesday hearing.

When Oscar Munoz, CEO of United, replied that he had worked for Coca-Cola (KO), Pepsico (PEP) and AT&T (T) "and that has worked out pretty well" in terms of pricing and choice of services, Hunter noted that with soda and telecom "you have a choice - but people have to fly, and have no other option".

United has taken steps to reduce overbooking of flights since the incident and would raise to $US10,000 ($A13,270) the limit on payments to customers who give up seats on oversold flights, Munoz said.

American Airlines, which has a hub in Philadelphia, said an April 21 episode when a flight attendant grabbed a stroller from a passenger, also captured on video, clearly was wrong.

The House transportation committee chair, Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, said United and other carriers should use the notoriety of Dao's removal to improve customer service. Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, said he would ask the Government Accountability Office for a study on airline customer service.

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

Prior to the Congress hearing, United issued a statement last week pledging to implement 10 important changes to improve its service and the way it treats its customers. Videos showing a beaten and bloodied Dao quickly went viral, sparking outrage on social media and a public relations nightmare for the airline.

"Southwest, are you going to go broke, [now that] you're not going to overbook any more?" he asked the Southwest executive sarcastically.

"If there's any one subject matter that's going to get to the heart of many voters, it's travel", Cooke said. American, Southwest and Alaska Airlines all are there too.

Lawmakers griped about crammed flights, confusing pricing policies for food and bags and excessive fees for customers who change flights.

Flying in the USA has become a "terrible" experience, from the time someone logs in on a computer to try to figure out which carrier has the lowest fares, said Rep. Mike Capuano, a Massachusetts Democrat. Airlines and their trade groups spent more than $27 million on lobbying a year ago, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog. After initially blaming the passenger as "belligerent", Munoz apologized and promised to change in airline procedures. The company will tell Congress it expects that denied boarding incidents will fall 80 percent as a result of the change.

"The document, as we laid out, was, in fact, to get as much information out there as possible, quickly", Munoz replied.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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