United Airlines pilots are “infuriated” by the bumped passenger event, which should not have escalated into a violent encounter, the union representing them says in a statement. But it also stresses that injuries caused to the passenger were not inflicted by United personnel.

The United Executive Council (MEC) says it intentionally withheld judgment as the story of United Express flight 3411, operated by US regional affiliate Republic Airline, went viral this week because of the rapid pace at which information “both accurate and inaccurate, has been released and manipulated.” 

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“The safety and well-being of our passengers is the highest priority for United pilots, and this should not have escalated into a violent encounter. United pilots are infuriated by this event,” MEC says in its statement.

Ultimately, MEC points out, the violence was caused “by the grossly inappropriate response by the Chicago Department of Aviation,” whose law enforcement officers were called to remove a passenger who refused to give up his seat. Their brutal handling of the passenger led to him being hospitalized with broken teeth, a broken nose and concussion. The lawyer representing David Dao said yesterday he was preparing a lawsuit against United.

The MEC statement also stresses that no United employees were involved in the physical altercation and says, “social media ire should properly be directed at the Chicago Aviation Department.”  

“Republic Airline made the decision to assign four of their crewmembers to deadhead on flight 3411 within minutes of the scheduled departure. Although four passengers would have to be removed from this flight to accommodate the Republic crew, the goal was to get the other 70 passengers on their way to SDF [Louisville International Airport] and ensure a flight crew needed the next day would also be in place. By all reports, the Republic flight crew was courteous and calm throughout the event, and three passengers left the flight voluntarily for compensation. After repeatedly asking the fourth passenger to give up his seat to no avail, the gate agent requested the assistance of law enforcement,” the MEC says.

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“For reasons unknown to us, instead of trained Chicago Police Department officers being dispatched to the scene, Chicago Department of Aviation personnel responded. At this point, without direction and outside the control of United Airlines or the Republic crew, the Chicago Department of Aviation forcibly removed the passenger. 

“Members of local airport law enforcement are normally important security partners who assist aircrews in ensuring the safety of everyone on the airplane. This event was an anomaly and is not how United or the police are expected to treat passengers when there is no security threat.”

The law enforcement officers involved have been suspended pending a review of the event.

“Ultimately, United must be measured by more than this one incident on a single United Express flight,” the MEC adds. “The United Airlines MEC is confident that the steps we are taking as a company will ensure this type of inexcusable event never happens again.”

Karen Walker Karen.walker@penton.com