United Airlines may lose hundreds of millions of euros this week as the airline faces continued backlash after a video emerged of security officers forcibly dragging a passenger from an overbooked flight.
The company’s stock was seen falling by more than 3 percent in Tuesday trading which could wipe at least €500 million from the company’s value, according to MarketWatch.
On Monday video emerged of a United Airlines passenger being wrestled from his seat by security guards before being dragged, bloodied, off the plane.
The video has sparked a US Department of Transportation (DOT) review on whether or not the airline complied with rules governing how passengers are denied boarding if they do not voluntarily give up their seats.
“While it is legal for airlines to involuntarily bump passengers from an oversold flight when there are not enough volunteers, it is the airline’s responsibility to determine its own fair boarding priorities,” said a DOT statement to Reuters.
In the immediate fallout of the incident, one of the three Chicago Department of Aviation security officers confronting the United flight 3411 passenger has been placed on paid leave.
Aviation department spokeswoman Karen Pride said the actions of its officers were “not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and [the] actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned.”
On Sunday evening, United Airlines selected four passengers to relinquish their seats to make room for staffers on the over-booked flight.
According to eyewitnesses, one of the passengers refused to give up his seat, saying he was as doctor who needed to see patients. Officers were then called in to forcibly remove him.
The incident was recorded by other passengers and the video prompted furore on social media – some of whom have called to boycott the airline.
Since then, the company has been in damage control with United CEO Oscar Munoz apologising on Monday for having to “re-accommodate” customers.
According to Munoz’s statement, the airline was seeking to reach out “to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”
United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. pic.twitter.com/rF5gNIvVd0— United (@united) April 10, 2017
But in a letter Munoz wrote to United staff seen Tuesday, Munoz came to the defence of his employees and called the passenger “disruptive and belligerent”.
His letter did not apologise for how security guards treated the passenger who Munoz said had defied both the plane’s crew and security officials.
“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,” Munoz’s letter said.
Munoz would issue another statement later in the day Tuesday in which he directly apologised.
“I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers abroad,” Munoz’s statement said. “No one should ever be mistreated this way.”
But many on social media have criticised how the company handled the situation.
An online petition demanding Munzo’s resignation has reached more than 15,500 signatures on Tuesday.
Some have found humour in the incident, likening it to the cult film Airplane.
united</a> Airlines Training Video<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/UnitedAirlines?src=hash">#UnitedAirlines</a> <a href="https://t.co/Ro9Ng5lgfc">pic.twitter.com/Ro9Ng5lgfc</a></p>— Cripshay (Cripshay) April 11, 2017
Others, using the #NewUnitedAirlinesMotto, have used social media to mock the airline whose official motto is “Fly the Friendly Skies.”
And the reaction has been global – with the incident grabbing the attention of more than 340 million Weibo social media users in China.
The man security officers forced off the plane is thought to be of Chinese origin.
According to Reuters, JD.com founder Liu Qiangdong told his social media followers the incident reminded him of previous experiences flying with United.
“This makes me recall the nightmare experiences I had the three times I flew with United Airlines,” he said. “United’s service is definitely the worst in the world.”
The incident was trending on Twitter Tuesday for the second consecutive day.