The shocking footage of an old man being violently dragged off his seat by authorities on a plane amidst horrified screams from fellow passengers quickly went viral, triggering strong public backlash against the airline involved.
Now, United Airlines is not just the subject of many people's disgust and anger on social media, it is also suffering the financial impact of its perceived mishandling and mistreatment of the passenger. Shares of United Airlines fell as much as 6.3% in pre-market trading, dropping $1.4 billion from its $21 billion company by market cap. By Tuesday's early trading, shares were down 4%.
Investors are said to be losing confidence on the airline as it faces a severe public relations crisis. They may be ready to abandon United Airlines.
Social media users are strongly condemning the violent incident, and many are calling for a boycott of United Airlines. Even some loyal patrons of the airline have expressed their intention to stop flying United Airlines after seeing their handling of the elderly passenger.
United Airlines' CEO Oscar Munoz "apologized" for the incident in a written statement to employees on Monday but insisted airline officials followed protocol in handling the situation. He also blamed the passenger for ignoring the requests of the crew to leave the plane, and for becoming "disruptive" and "belligerent". However, he changed his tune on Tuesday after the dramatic fall of the airline stock. He said that he continues to be "disturbed" by what happened on the flight and that he "deeply apologize" to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers onboard. He also said that "no one should ever be mistreated this way". He said the airline is taking full responsibility for the incident and that they "will work to make it right".
The now viral video shows the passenger, later identified as 69-year old Vietnamese-American doctor David Dao, being grabbed by officers from his window seat on the plane, pulling him across the armrest and dragging him down the aisle by his arms. His face got bloodied in the process.
Updated reports also corrected earlier claims that the incident was caused by overbooking. It was clarified that the airline asked for "volunteers" among the paying passengers of Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville to accommodate boarding four of its staff needed to man another flight in another destination. When there were no takers for the airline's offer of $800, hotel stay and flight the next day in exchange for them giving up their seats, United Airlines announced that they will choose the passengers to be bumped off randomly via computer. Dao was one of those selected, but he refused to leave his seat saying he is a doctor who urgently needed to see his customers the following morning.
White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said he was " disturbed" by the " unfortunate incident". He has also seen the video of Dao being violently handled by officers. The Department of Transportation has also announced that it is reviewing the incident.