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Overbooking is OK, Airlines Say

09 May 2017

In the wake of the United Airlines passenger-dragging incident last month, USA legislators grilled executives from some of the nation's largest airlines on Tuesday - and reports say they often sounded like any other group of aggrieved passengers wondering why flying often seems so unpleasant.

House lawmakers told the chief executive of United and officials of other airlines to improve their customer service in the wake of recent incidents or face possible new regulations, at a congressional hearing that was relatively free of fireworks.

And Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said, "I was going to ask, why do you hate the American people?"

The settlement announcement came on the same day that United Airlines revealed some big policy changes, including raising the maximum incentive for a passenger to give up their seat when a flight is overbooked to $10,000.

Representatives from Southwest and American Airlines joined Munoz at the witness table Tuesday as the United CEO detailed policy changes the airline adopted after cellphone footage of the Dao incident on April 9 went viral.

Executives from United, Alaska, Southwest, and American Airlines answered House Transportation Committee questions after incidents where a United Airlines passenger was hospitalized after he was removed from a plane, and an American Airlines flight attendant was suspended for violently confiscating a baby stroller.

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Whether or not Congress actually takes steps to regulate airline customer service will depend on whether companies can prove they've made amends and changed their ways, the Tribune reports.

Munoz has said he was hired to make United better and he will not resign. Dao reached a settlement with United last week for an undisclosed amount.

Rep. Cohen referenced United's recent settlement with the passenger saying, "You've apologized and made compensation for Dr. Dao, I appreciate that, it was bad to watch that, it reminded me of a Trump campaign rally".

"When I was a kid I grew up in a neighborhood where every single playground was full of broken glass, broken basketball hoops and no swings, and everybody just accepted it", he said.

"I was disturbed beyond belief by the video", Munoz said.

"We view over booking where we can incentivize a customer to take an alternative flight as a win-win situation for both the airline and those customers", Kirby said, "and 96 percent of the incidents where we have an over booking we were able to get customers to be volunteers [to take another flight]".

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"We are not going to go broke, I promise you that", said Bob Jordan, executive vice president at Southwest. But several members of Congress have introduced legislation to ban the bumping of passengers if flights are overbooked.

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 2, 2017, to testify before a House Transportation Committee oversight hearing.

Rep. Mike Capuano, D-Mass., said Americans are so used to "miserable" flying experiences, it's become expected. And finally, the airline's employees did not have the authority to do what was right and "use their common sense", Munoz said.

"We will do better", the United CEO said.

Munoz acknowledged United's failures in his opening statement.

The airline has since announced that Munoz will no longer take over as chairman of United's board in 2018, as was planned.

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Overbooking is OK, Airlines Say