United CEO commends employees, pins blame for violent incident squarely on brutalized passenger

Oscar Munoz doesn’t understand “why this customer defied [officers] the way he did.”

In a memo sent to employees, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz pins blame for the ugly incident that unfolded on an overbooked plane in Chicago on Sunday evening squarely on the passenger.

Munoz, who was named PRWeek’s U.S. Communicator of the Year just last month, writes that the 69-year-old man who was left bloody and distressed after he refused to exit a plane he’d paid to be in “defied Chicago Aviation Security officers.” By contrast, Munoz describes United employees who asked him to leave the plane after the man had entered it as acting “politely.” He goes as far as to “commend” employees for “continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.”

“As you will read, this situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it become necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help,” Munoz writes, adding that agents were “left with no choice” but to escalate the situation by getting police involved.


The man, whose name has not yet been publicly disclosed, told other passengers he’s a doctor who had to get back to Louisville to see patients Monday morning. After he entered the full plane and sat down, a United manager told passengers that four “volunteers” would have to exit the plane to make room for staff members who had to get to Louisville. Staff members of the the airline, which made $2.3 billion in profit last year, offered passengers $1,000 to exit the plane and take another flight. Finding no takers, passengers were selected at random — the man in question being among them.

When he refused to leave, United employees summoned aviation security officers. Here’s what ensued:

In his memo to employees, Munoz describes the man as “disruptive and belligerent.” After he was dragged limp from the plane, the man, blood streaming from his mouth, reentered and ran down the aisle, repeatedly saying, “I have to go home, I have to go home.” With reference to that disturbing scene, Munoz writes, “he continued to resist — running back onto the aircraft in defiance of both our crew and security officials.”


The entire memo was obtained by ABC News’ Shahriar Rahmanzadeh and posted to Twitter by Good Morning America’s Michael Del Moro.

Munoz’s memo to staff wasn’t the first time he threw the brutalized passenger under the bus on Monday. In a public statement, Munoz apologized not to the man who was left bloody, but “for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

“We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation,” Munoz added.

The praise Munoz lavished on his staff for how they handled things is at odds with a public statement released by the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA). In it, the CDA says the incident “was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the Department.”


The statement adds that one of the officers involved in yanking and dragging the passenger off the flight “has been placed on leave effective today pending a thorough review of the situation.”