A petition is calling for the top executive at United Airlines to resign after one of the airline's passengers was violently dragged off an overbooked flight Sunday evening, sparking widespread public outrage.
Nearly 10,000 people have signed the petition so far to demand that United CEO Oscar Munoz step down from his position, claiming “United could not have handled this situation any worse.”
Munoz issued a public apology for having to “re-accommodate” customers hours after the company had put out a statement briefly explaining the incident on Monday.
Munoz also sent an internal letter to staff defending the airline and saying employees followed all protocols, including asking the man “politely” to give up his seat.
“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers,” Munoz said in a statement. “Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.”
“We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation,” he added.
In several videos posted on Twitter, security officers can be seen forcibly removing a man from his seat and dragging the distressed passenger by his wrists down the aisle, as other customers yelled out in protest.
One passenger said on Twitter that the flight was four people overbooked, with those seats needed for airline personnel. But when no one volunteered to leave, customers were randomly selected to give up their seats.
The man who was dragged off the plane apparently refused to leave because he said he was a doctor who needed to reach his destination to treat patients. Authorities were then brought on board to assist with his removal.
The security office responsible for dragging the passenger has been placed on leave, pending an investigation.
“It's a horrifying mistreatment and abuse and we can't let them get away with it,” the petition says.
Crisis management experts blasted United for how it handled the public relations nightmare, which comes on the heels of another flap in which two teenage girls were temporarily kept from boarding a United flight because they were wearing leggings.
"While [Munoz’s apology] would normally be seen as a step in the right direction ... United let an entire day elapse before this statement was released, and the messaging in the statement was a far cry from the original statement that was released immediately after the incident," said Matt Rizzetta, branding expert and CEO at North 6th Agency.
"This has created a perception that United is simply reacting to the outpouring of negative sentiment they’ve received on social media since the story first broke, and not a display of genuine concern toward their customers."
Members of Congress are also turning up the heat on United. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) tweeted that the airline "must do more than 'apologize'. Full investigation needed. Airlines must start treating passengers with respect, not like cargo."
And Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is calling for a hearing on the matter.
"I am asking our committee for a hearing, which will allow us to question airport police, United Airlines personnel, and airport officials, among others, about whether appropriate procedures were in place in Chicago and are in place across the United States when passengers are asked to leave a flight,” she said in a statement.
Munoz said in his letter to staff that $1,000 in compensation was offered. Experts say it would have been more cost-efficient in the long run to keep offering higher compensation until four willing participants agreed to give up their seats.
Shares of United’s parent company dropped by more than 3 percent on Tuesday.
"They should have gone as high as they needed,” Eric Schiffer, CEO of Reputation Management Consultants, told The Hill in a statement. “This is equal to a $100M comped ticket if weighed on a brand destruction scale."