'Self-inflicted' problems of airlines under glare of U.S. Senate panel
United has said it will no longer call security to remove onboard passengers for overbooking issues
Chicago Aviation commissioner Ginger Evans apologized on Thursday for the city employees who forcibly removed a United Airlines passenger, an incident that prompted international condemnation and led the airline to revise its policies.
Evans told a U.S. Senate commerce subcommittee that the April 9 removal of Dr. David Dao was "deeply saddening and personally offensive."
The department has suspended four employees in the incident and said neither the Chicago Police Department nor airport security officers will go on aircraft to deal with customer service matters including overbooking situations.
United has said it will no longer call security to remove onboard passengers for overbooking issues.
Congress is holding its second hearing this week to examine the circumstances surrounding the forced removal of the passenger from a Chicago flight last month.
United President Scott Kirby also appeared at the hearing into the state of airline travel and again apologized for the incident.
Amid looming threats of increased oversight of the largely deregulated industry, United hopes to impress the panel that the airlines can best regulate their practices, including implementing enough changes to improve passenger satisfaction.
Also slated to testify on Thursday are Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, and Sharon Pinkerton, an official at the airline trade group Airlines for America.
Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who chairs the subcommittee on aviation operation, safety, and security, said Congress wanted "to find out what went wrong and what we are going to do to be sure it doesn't happen in the future."
Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida said Congress "isn't just going to sit back and take a wait-and-see approach."
He and Blunt said Congress may address passenger protections when it takes up a bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration.
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At a tense U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing on Tuesday, lawmakers threatened United and other carriers with legislation aimed at improving customer service. Top airline executives promised to address passenger frustrations with problems such as overbooking.
Despite lawmakers' warnings, airlines on Tuesday breathed a sigh of relief that no immediate plans were outlined to tighten regulations on the industry.
Last month, United faced international scorn when video circulated showing the 69-year-old Dao being dragged from his seat on United Flight 3411 at Chicago O'Hare International Airport to make room for airline employees.