United CEO Oscar Munoz blames David Dao incident on ‘system failure,’ apologizes for rabbit incident

Daniella Silva
United offers new passenger policy following dragging incident

United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz blamed the now infamous incident where passenger David Dao was dragged off a flight on "a system failure" — even as he apologized for yet another embarrassing mishap, this time involving the death of a prized bunny rabbit.

"It was a system failure across the board," Munoz said in an exclusive interview with NBC News' Lester Holt, adding that he had introduced changes at the company because "a circumstance like we've all witnessed should have never happened, never happened."

Dao, a 69-year-old doctor, was caught on video being dragged out of his seat and off a flight at an airport in Chicago after he had been selected as one of four passengers to be removed off the plane to make room for airline staff who were heading to Louisville to be in place for a morning flight.

More of NBC News' exclusive interview with United CEO Oscar Munoz will air on Thursday on TODAY and Nightly News with Lester Holt.

Chicago Department of Aviation employees forcibly removed Dao from the plane, leaving him bloodied and with injuries that included two lost teeth, a broken nose and a "significant" concussion, according to Dao's attorney. At least four law enforcement officers have been placed on leave following the April 9 incident.

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Meanwhile, United was reeling from another public image crisis on Wednesday after a valuable giant rabbit named Simon died while on the ground after a long flight from London.

"We are deeply sorry for the loss of anything from your luggage to, of course, a loved pet," Munoz said, adding that they were continuing to fix any ongoing concerns with the airline.

When asked if the incident with Dao had hurt the company's bottom line, Munoz claimed he had not yet checked on the numbers.

"I haven't looked. And our team hasn't looked," he said.

"And so we'll see. But that hasn't been a focus for me or for us during this period," he added.

Shares of United Continental had slipped immediately following the Dao incident, but the company's quarterly earnings report slightly beat estimates later in the month.

Munoz said that while some of the company's policies and procedures were "dated," they were still working to "put the customer at the center of everything we do."

That includes customers who pay both high and low fares, he said.

"We're going to teach and broaden sort of the cultural impact of respect and dignity, regardless of where you're sitting," he added. "And that's why we've said — once you've boarded an aircraft, we're not going to take you off, except for safety and security."

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Munoz also noted that United has implemented changes including requiring crew members to be booked on flights at least an hour before takeoff.

And on Thursday United announced there will be additional training for front-line employees on how to deal with difficult situations and make on-the-spot decisions. The company also says they are setting up an automated system that will ask passengers at check-in if they would be willing to give up their seat — with offers of up to $10,000 for the inconvenience.

Dao's attorney, Thomas Demetrio, in a statement early Thursday applauded United for promptly making policy changes that he said are "passenger friendly and are simple, commonsense decisions on United's part to help minimize the stress involved in the flying experience."