The chief executive of United Airlines apologized Tuesday on Capitol Hill for an incident in which a passenger was dragged off a flight, calling it "a mistake of epic proportions" as frustrated lawmakers warned airline executives to improve customer service or face congressional intervention.
Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure grilled executives from United, American, Southwest, and Alaska airlines, criticizing practices such as overbooking and bumping passengers from planes, change fees, and even delays on the tarmac.
Munoz, who was joined by United president Scott Kirby, said United has made policy changes to reduce overbooked flights and offer passengers who give up their seats as much as $10,000.
William McGee, aviation consultant of the Consumers Union, told the Transport Committee that the treatment of Dao on board the flight last month "powerfully brought home, once again, that consumers are at the mercy of powerful airlines in an ever-more concentrated industry".
"If we don't see meaningful results that improve customer service the next time this committee meets to address the issue, I can assure you, you won't like the outcome", Chairman Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, said.
Senior lawmakers urged USA airlines on Tuesday to fix their customer service issues after recent high-profile problems, or face a crackdown from Congress.
The boss of United Airlines Oscar Munoz has admitted the violent ejection of passenger David Dao has demonstrated systemic flaws within the company - and said passengers could be paid $10,000 to give up their seats and avoid overbooking.
After initially blaming the passenger as "belligerent", Munoz apologized and promised to change in airline procedures. Police were summoned and Dao, 69, was dragged bloodied from the flight, an incident that was captured on video by another passenger.
Also read: American Airlines employee accused of hitting mom with her baby's stroller.
Immediate action against the airlines and the executives seems unlikely after the hearing.
"Clearly what happened was wrong", said Kerry Philipovitch, the airline's senior vice president of customer experience, at the hearing.
Some lawmakers - and frequent flyers - are acknowledging that airline executives are in a tough spot as they testify before lawmakers at a hearing on problems with USA air travel.
American Airlines (AAL) ascended 4.25% to 43.87, rebounding from its 200-day line and nearing its 50-day.
Larsen says United "put the solution" to its problem on the customer, in this case, Dao, who was injured after security officers removed him from the Louisville, Kentucky-bound flight.
"Very few passengers have any idea what their rights are", DeFazio said.
"We are not going to go broke", replied Bob Jordan, the Southwest executive vice president who appeared at the hearing.
Southwest said last week it would end overbooking altogether.
"And it is not just You Mr. Munoz, it happens to be you today, but it could be any one of you tomorrow", Capuano said. "Once there was a piece of legislation, then we could have an opportunity to weigh in", Spicer said on Monday.
Republican Duncan Hunter, who takes the only direct San Diego-Washington flight weekly when Congress is in session, said it was a "joke" to suggest there was competition.
Despite recent controversies, airline industry profits have not taken a hit. In a statement, the airline said it was working with individual members of Congress on customer service issues.
"We are kind of sick of it as the consuming Americans, but we got to fly, you got us".
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