United Airlines and the Chicago Department of Aviation are asking for more time after missing their deadline to respond to a Senate inquiry into the forcible removal of a passenger earlier this month.
Leaders of the Senate transportation committee requested answers to a number of pointed questions over the handling of the incident by Thursday. Both United and the Aviation Department missed the deadline, asking for an extra week in separate letters to the committee.
“We’re disappointed that neither United Airlines nor the Chicago Department of Aviation has yet provided substantive answers to the straightforward questions we asked about the forcible removal of a passenger on April 9, 2017,” the committee said Friday in a news release. “Getting answers for the public about what happened and what can be done to prevent such an incident from happening again is a priority for the members of our committee. We find any further delay in getting necessary answers unacceptable.”
Four senators, including committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the committee’s ranking Democrat, sent letters to the airline and Aviation Department on April 11 seeking detailed explanations as to why United passenger Dr. David Dao was dragged from his seat while waiting to fly from O’Hare International Airport to Louisville, Ky.
Dao was one of four passengers bumped from the United Express flight to make room for four airline employees after the airline failed to find volunteers to take a later flight.
United CEO Oscar Munoz‘s letter to the committee Thursday reiterated his apologies to Dao and all of the passengers aboard the flight who endured the “appalling” incident, which he called a “humbling learning experience.” He also asked that the response deadline be pushed back until April 27 to “ensure accuracy and thoroughness” while the airline conducts an internal review.
“We understand the committee’s strong interest in this incident and its oversight role,” United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy wrote in an email Friday. “In our preliminary response to the committee, we outlined efforts underway to better serve our customers and requested a brief extension in responding to the committee’s detailed questions in order to ensure accuracy and thoroughness.”
The Chicago Department of Aviation’s response letter from Commissioner Ginger Evans, sent yesterday but inadvertently dated April 27, asked for an extension until Wednesday.
“We are currently conducting a thorough review of the incident,” Evans wrote. “As our reviews and interviews are ongoing, we respectfully request an extension … to ensure the completeness of our response.”
Dao’s forceful removal by three aviation officers, who yanked him from his seat and dragged him bloodied through the aisle, was captured on now-viral video by fellow passengers. The three aviation officers remain on paid leave during the investigation.
“I’m proud that Ginger suspended three individuals involved in the situation,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday at an unrelated news conference. “I told her there’s nothing sacrosanct and nobody is sacrosanct. Give it to us fresh, and we’ll take every corrective action we need to take.”
United’s reputation also has taken a beating in the wake of the incident, prompting the airline to make several policy changes, which were outlined in the extension request to the Senate committee inquiry. Those changes include never asking a law enforcement officer to remove passengers from flights, “unless it is a matter of safety and security,” and making sure United crews traveling as passengers are booked at least 60 minutes prior to departure.
“Like you, this horrible event has spurred outrage in me personally; and it has spurred us to take action,” Munoz wrote.