United Changes Crew Booking Policy in Wake of Passenger Incident

After vowing to make a series of changes on Thursday, the airliner is taking its first official step.

United Airlines has changed its crewmember booking policy after the incident that put the airliner in news headlines all week.

After video went viral of Dr. David Dao being violently dragged off a United plane due to an overbooking issue, the airline has confirmed that it has updated its rules so that crewmembers will need to check in at least one hour before departure time. In an effort to prevent the crew from bumping a seated, paying passenger, the seat dispute will now be settled ahead of boarding.

About the headline-making incident, which occurred on April 9, United had said a seat was needed for a commuting crewmember and no one had volunteered to leave the plane.

A United spokesperson confirmed to NPR that the policy change is "to make sure crews traveling on our aircraft are booked at least 60 minutes prior to departure. This ensures situations like flight 3411 never happen again." Adding that the change is "one of our initial steps in a review of our policies in order to deliver the best customer experience."

TMZ was first to report the news. According to an internal email, the change states, "No must ride crewmember can displace a customer who has boarded an aircraft."

Dao, a 69-year old Kentucky physician, sustained a concussion, broken nose and lost two teeth during the incident, which may require him to undergo reconstructive surgery. His attorney held a press conference on Thursday where he outlined potential plans to bring a lawsuit.

"For a long time, airlines — United in particular — have bullied us. They have treated us less than we deserve. … The whole culture has to change," said attorney Thomas Demetrio, who was joined by Dao's daughter for the briefing.

Though the attorney denied that Dao had heard directly from either United or CEO Oscar Munoz, the airliner replied to the conference saying Munoz had called "on numerous occasions" to express their apologies.

"This horrible situation has provided a harsh learning experience from which we will take immediate, concrete action," said the airline on Thursday, vowing to change its rules on overbooking and booking crew, removing passengers and training its staff on how to handle such an event. "We have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again."

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