WASHINGTON – Last week’s passenger-dragging incident on a United Airlines flight is about to be scrutinized by Congress. In a bipartisan fashion, too. The House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees aviation policy, will hold a hearing to probe just what happened on United Flight 3411.
The panel’s chairman, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pennsylvania, and top Democrat, Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, jointly announced their plan Wednesday.
No witnesses or precise date was announced, but the hearing comes after a drumbeat of concern from members of Congress.
They want to know more about why and how Chicago Department of Aviation Police dragged Kentucky doctor David Dao off the Chicago-to-Louisville flight on April 9 after the airline involuntarily bumped him and three other passengers to accommodate airline employees.
Cellphone video of the event was viewed by millions and prompted a global public outcry and a stumbling response from the airline and its chief executive, Oscar Munoz. He initially defended the conduct of airline employees before apologizing multiple times.
Dao received a concussion and a broken nose and had two of his teeth knocked out. His attorney said he would likely sue the airline.
Government watchdogs and consumer groups alike have predicted that the dragging incident could lead to new rules from Congress or the U.S. Department of Transportation strengthening passenger rights.
Many lawmakers fly home nearly every week while Congress is in session, so the United incident hit a raw nerve. Those on the House of Representatives committee were already pressing federal regulators for a thorough investigation last week.
“I want to know why this happened, how it was allowed to occur and what protocols are in place to handle overbooked flights,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Illinois
Davis, a transportation committee member, co-authored a provision last year that requires airlines to seat children age 13 or younger next to an adult or older child traveling with them.
Davis wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao last week co-signed by Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Illinois, who also is a member of the committee.
“Many of us who fly frequently have experienced overbooking situations,” Lipinski said, “but obviously how it was handled in this circumstance was unacceptable, and no passenger should ever be put through what this individual was.”
United announced late last week that it would stop the practice of involuntarily removing passengers from planes once they’d boarded, as was the case on Flight 3411. It also said it would no longer call on law enforcement to remove passengers.
Other airlines have decided to increase their compensation offers for such passengers. Delta Air Lines will allow supervisors to offer as much as $9,950, well above the $1,350 required by federal law.