Senate Grills United President, Hints At Regulation


On Thursday, the Senate Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security grilled United Airlines President Scott Kirby and Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans about the dismal state of commercial air travel generally—at least for economy class passengers—and in specific the incident on April 9 in which Dr. David Dao refused to be bumped from his United flight and was forcibly removed by Chicago Department of Aviation security personnel. Ranking Member Bill Nelson, D-Fla., made no secret of the fact that United had been brought before the Subcommittee for a dressing down, lamenting to Mr. Kirby that he had been sent “as a sacrificial lamb,” when the CEO, Oscar Munoz, should have come himself. Mr. Munoz and Mr. Kirby both testified before a House Committee earlier in the week.

Mr. Kirby rose to his appointed role as sacrificial lamb and whipping boy, telling the subcommittee, “On April 9, our airline broke the public trust.” Kirby continued, “I’m sorry for our company’s inadequate response to the initial incident.” Ms. Evans confirmed for the subcommittee that the Dao incident was not handled in accordance with the Chicago Department of Aviation’s use of force policy, saying “force should only be used when absolutely necessary to protect the safety and security of passengers.” All parties to that incident concede that Dr. Dao did not pose a threat to passengers by remaining in his seat. Democratic members of the subcommittee made clear they did not believe changes put in place by airlines voluntarily, such as ending overbooking, was going to be sufficient to protect the flying public. Senator Cantwell, D-Wash., told Kirby rules on booking of passengers and repositioning of crew are “going to end up in a passenger bill of rights. We’re going to tell you how you can and can’t operate to protect consumers and the traveling public.”