United CEO issues apology for dragged passenger

April 11 (Reuters) - United Airlines Chief Executive Oscar Munoz on Tuesday issued an apology for the treatment of a passenger who was dragged on Sunday from his seat on a United plane, as the company faced a worldwide backlash for its handling of the incident.

"I'm sorry. We will fix this," Munoz said in a statement a day after he had defended the company in a memo that contained no apologies to the passenger. On Tuesday, as the storm of criticism continued, Munoz changed course.

"I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard," he said in the statement. "No one should ever be mistreated this way."

People react to United Airlines kicking a passenger off a flight
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People react to United Airlines kicking a passenger off a flight
Pepsi: We are the most hated company right now. 😓 United Airlines: 1 sec - Hold my Pepsi. #PEPSI #unitedAIRLINES
Not so friendly skies huh @united ? Makes me sick now how you treat customers. I hope he sues hard. #unitedairlines https://t.co/D13SDvHfLq
You want passengers to give up their seats because you have piss poor planning & then beat them up? Shame on you. @united #unitedAIRLINES
Apparently @united 's inability to coordinate a flight makes violent assault against customers ok. Never flying #UnitedAirlines again
NEVER flying @united ever again! Horrific, brutal, intolerable treatment of passenger, + tone-deaf "apology" from CEO. #UnitedAirlines
Dear United Airlines: People have smart phones.
Perhaps @MerriamWebster can help #United Airlines with the definition of "volunteer"
United Airlines to United Airlines: "I see your legging-gate, and I raise you a passenger beating" #UnitedAirlines #United #flight3411
Look on the bright side, United Airlines. After this incident, you'll never have to worry about a flight being overbooked again.
You thought United Airlines was tough on folks who wear leggings. Just wait to see what they do to folks in sweat p… https://t.co/x5Nzp7gcn1
Poor planning on your part doesn't constitute an emergency on ours. Fly Southwest. Fly Delta. Hell, fly Spirit. Not #UnitedAirlines

Video showing a man who appeared to be Asian being snatched from his seat Sunday evening and dragged from United Airlines Flight 3411 sparked global outrage that escalated as consumers in China, a key United market, called for boycotts of the airline. Regulators in the United States said they are reviewing the incident.

United has not identified the passenger, and Reuters was not able to confirm his identity.

United Continental Holdings Inc shares fell as much as 4.4 percent on Tuesday, but recovered some losses and ended 1.1 percent lower. More than 16 million United shares changed hands, the most for any session in a year.

The stock is down about 3 percent for the year.

United is also suffering from broader worries among investors about U.S. airline performance.

In his apology, Munoz pledged a "a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement." The findings will be released by April 30, he said.

Munoz, a former railroad executive who took over United in 2015, already faced pressure from activist investors to improve the airline's performance, including its customer relations. In April 2016, United agreed with a group of investors to install airline industry veteran Robert Milton as non-executive chairman.

The risks to United from the uproar over the forced removal of the passenger in Chicago intensified on Tuesday. On Chinese social media, the incident attracted the attention of more than 480 million users on Weibo, China's Twitter-like platform.

United has about 20 percent of total U.S.-China airline traffic and has a partnership with Air China, the third-largest Chinese airline, according to analysts. It flies to more Chinese cities than other U.S. airlines. Last year, United added nonstop flights from San Francisco to Hangzhou, its fifth destination in mainland China.

According to Tyler Bridges, a passenger who was on board the flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, the man who was dragged off before takeoff said repeatedly that he was being discriminated against because he was Chinese.

"He said, 'I'm a doctor; I need to see patients," said Bridges, a civil engineer from Louisville who recorded much of the incident on his phone.

In the United States, social media outrage continued, with the incident trending on Twitter for the second consecutive day. Many users promoted hashtags #NewUnitedAirlinesMotto and #BoycottUnitedAirlines.

This is the second time in less than a month that United has been caught in a social media storm. In late March, a United gate agent's decision to refuse to board two teenage girls wearing leggings provoked a viral backlash.

Social media reacts to United Airlines leggings ban
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Social media reacts to United Airlines leggings ban
Usually I have to block gun extremists. Today I have to block legging extremists. Weird.
@PattyArquette @Shananigans @united @shannonrwatts See? 👇🏻 I've done it before! 👍🏻 https://t.co/MC6P144kjL
@united Leggings are business attire for 10 year olds. Their business is being children.
Fact: I once took a @united flight with my penis FULLY EXPOSED and had NO PROBLEMS #Misogyny
I have flown united before with literally no pants on. Just a top as a dress. Next time I will wear only jeans and a scarf.
@united Really? https://t.co/O9RplgrTsv
Hey @united can you clarify whether I can wear Zubaz on my next flight? Thx. https://t.co/333sFSt1ix
It's not going to be a pretty sight, but I'm going to wear yoga pants for my next @united flight.
😱👇🏻I'm going to start wearing leggings! Is that against the rules? 🤔#outdatedfashion #outdatedrules https://t.co/V5LnwDwygY
We here at @united are just trying to police the attire of the daughters of our employees! That's all! Cool, right? https://t.co/xGyL4IAslE
For the record, the girl wearing the leggings was TEN YEARS OLD. Good luck to @united explaining why she looked too sexual.
A 10-year-old girl in gray leggings. She looked normal and appropriate. Apparently @united is policing the clothing… https://t.co/KMBawQo7Ml

(Additional reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru and Lewis Krauskopf, David Randall, Angela Moon, Rodrigo Campos and Gina Cherelus in New York, Timothy McLaughlin in Chicago, David Shepardson in Washington and Philip Wen in Beijing; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Richard Chang)

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