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11th Apr 2017

Leaked email from United Airlines CEO makes passenger dragging incident even worse

What do you do when a passenger is forcibly dragged from your plane? You blame them

Rich Cooper

By now you’ll have seen the shocking video of a passenger being forcibly dragged from a plane.

The United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked, and when one man – a doctor who had to get back home for work the next day – was asked to ‘volunteer’ to leave the plane and refused, he was dragged screaming from the plane.

Of course, everyone was furious.

It’s a PR nightmare, which wasn’t helped by a terrifically cold statement from United, in which they apologised for “the overbook situation” – the situation being that some United employees needed to get home and paying customers were ejected to make room for them – and not the inhuman way an innocent man was treated.

But this has been made worse still following the leaking of an email from United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, in which he and the company show little sympathy or remorse for the way the man was treated.

The email claims that the company’s agents were “left with no choice” and insists that employees “followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this”.

More than this, the tone of the email is almost accusatory, with United examining “why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did”, as though it was his fault he was dragged from a plane that he had a ticket for.

Here is the letter in full:

Dear Team,

Like you, I was upset to see and hear about what happened last night aboard United Express Flight 3411 headed from Chicago to Louisville.

While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clearer picture of what transpired, I’ve included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees.

As you will read, 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.

Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.

I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. 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.


And this is United Airlines’ summary of the incident:

• On Sunday April 9, after United Express Flight 3411 was fully boarded, United’s gate agents were approached by crew members that were told they needed to board the flight.

• We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to $1,000 in compensation) and 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 co-operation 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.