Smucker to United CEO: 'There's a lot of work to be done'

House committee examining airline customer service

WASHINGTON - Three weeks after sending a letter to United Airlines's CEO about the violent removal of an airplane passenger, a congressman who represents part of Berks County got to question Oscar Munoz face to face Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which held a hearing to examine airline customer service and consumer protection for passengers.

Smucker questioned Munoz about his response to the incident aboard Flight 3411 on April 9, when a passenger was dragged off an overbooked flight in Chicago.

After initially blaming the passenger as "belligerent" and apologizing for "having to re-accommodate" him, Munoz apologized again and promised to change his airline's procedures.

"Mr. Munoz, you asked us to trust you, today, to make the changes that will be needed for United. I must tell you, if I’m a member of the general public, seeing the reaction of United initially, and in the few weeks after the incident, there’s a lot of work to be done to convince us that you are responding properly to this horrific event.”

"With regards to the initial response, there's no excuse," Munoz told Smucker. "It was an act based upon me trying to understand facts and circumstances. It's on me. It was the wrong thing to say at the wrong time."

Smucker then addressed the letter he sent to Munoz on April 11, demanding answers about the incident.

"Mr. Munoz, it took you two weeks to respond to that letter," Smucker said. "The response did not fully address the questions. You did send a review and action report. I was amazed that report did not even mention that your passenger was physically harmed."

"The document, as we laid out, was, in fact, to get as much information out there as possible, quickly," Munoz replied.

The airline has settled out of court with the passenger, Dr. David Dao.

Munoz is one of four U.S. airline executives to appear at the hearing on Capitol Hill. The others are lower-level leaders from American Airlines, Southwest and Alaska.

The hearing opened with the committee's top Republican and Democrat both decrying the state of air travel for customers. Both told the executives they need to improve or face action by Congress.

"Congress will not hesitate to act when your customers, our constituents. are not treated the way they deserve," said committee Chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican.

Some lawmakers, who happen to be frequent flyers, acknowledged that airline executives were in a tough spot as they testified at the hearing.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, a Florida Democrat, said airline officials at the more than three-hour hearing "probably feel a lot like airline passengers: very claustrophobic and waiting for something bad to happen."

U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, a Georgia Republican, said the airline executives were showing great patience at the sometimes pointed questions from lawmakers.

Woodall said: "You know you are having a bad day when you are lectured about customer service by members of Congress," who have an even lower public approval rating than airlines.

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