(NEW YORK) -- United Airlines will cut back on overbooking and develop an automated system to gauge customers' interest in voluntary, compensated bumping at check-in, the airline announced Thursday in a review of the April 9 incident that saw a passenger dragged off an aircraft.
Following in Delta's footsteps, United will also increase its incentive payment cap for voluntary denied boarding to $10,000.
"Every customer deserves to be treated with the highest levels of service and the deepest sense of dignity and respect," embattled CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement. "Two weeks ago, we failed to meet that standard. Today, we are taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right."
In one of the airline's biggest PR fiascos to date, passengers on board a United aircraft still at the gate at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport filmed fellow passenger Dr. David Dao wrenched from his seat and dragged down the aisle of Flight 3411 after refusing to deplane to make room for crew members deadheading to Louisville.
According to documents obtained by ABC News, Dao and his wife initially expressed interest in United's offer to bump passengers in exchange for an $800 voucher, but later declined after learning they were not guaranteed a flight that same day.
When none of their fellow passengers volunteered for re-accommodation, the couple was informed they had been selected to involuntarily surrender their seats. They refused, and a United supervisor summoned security officers.
Described in aviation department reports as "aggressive" and "combative," Dao repeatedly rejected officer's orders to exit, declaring, "I don't care if I get arrested."
According to the reports, when officers attempted to extricate him from his seat, Dao allegedly flailed his arms, hitting his mouth on an armrest during the struggle. Because Dao "would not stand up," a Chicago aviation official explained in one report, officers removed him "by dragging him."
After his forcible removal, Dao ran back onto the aircraft -- his face apparently bloody, according to video of the incident -- and was removed once again via stretcher a short time later.
Dao's attorney -- who said allegations of aggressive behavior are "utter nonsense" -- told reporters his client suffered a broken nose, injury to his sinuses, concussion, and lost two front teeth.
After the altercation went viral, four Chicago aviation officers were placed on paid administrative leave.
"Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: our policies got in the way of our values," Munoz said in a statement distributed Thursday alongside the incident review. "Our customers should be at the center of everything we do and these changes are just the beginning of how we will earn back their trust."
In the days following the incident, United pledged to never again summon law enforcement to forcibly remove a paying customer from an aircraft, except for security reasons -- a promise they reiterated in Thursday's report.
In fact, the report outlined a total of 10 policy changes resulting from the Dao incident, including some previously reported by ABC:
- Law enforcement officers will not be asked to remove customers from United flights unless it is a matter of safety and security.
- Customers already seated on a plane will not be required to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.
- Beginning Friday, April 28, maximum compensation for voluntary denied boarding will be increased up to $10,000.
- A "customer solutions team" will be established by June to provide gate agents with creative solutions. They'll explore putting passengers and flight crews on flights to nearby airports, using other airlines or providing ground transportation.
- Crews must be booked on flights at least 60 minutes prior to departure
- Gate agents will undergo additional annual training beginning in August on difficult situations like this.
- A new automated check-in process will be introduced later this year that will "gauge a customer's interest in giving up his or her seat on overbooked flights in exchange for compensation."
- Reduce overbooking, particularly on smaller aircraft and the last flights of the day.
- A new "in the moment" app will be launched for flight attendants by July and gate agents later this year that will allow them to give customers miles or other compensation the moment a disservice occurs.
- Customers will be paid at least $1,500 on any permanently lost bags.
Involuntary denial of boarding incidents like Dao's are among the most "difficult" situations for gate agents and other employees, United said in the report.
According to company statistics submitted to the Department of Transportation, the vast majority of passengers denied boarding gave up their seats voluntarily, in exchange for travel vouchers or other incentives. Fewer than 1 in 23,000 customers are involuntarily denied boarding, the airline said, and many of those are kept off the plane due to weight restrictions, aircraft down-sizing, or security concerns. Only a handful are kept from boarding due to overbooking or crew positioning issues, according to United.
Dao's flight was plagued by overbooking and crew positioning issues, United clarified in the report. (Previously, United had disputed reports that the flight was overbooked, saying the incident stemmed only from crew movement problems.) One passenger who had not yet received a seat assignment was involuntarily bumped prior to boarding, and two more were booted from their seats to make room for United crew members displaced by maintenance issues.
"This has been a defining moment for our United family," says the report. "It is our responsibility -- our mission -- to make sure we all learn from this experience."
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