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NEW YORK, 15 April 2017:
United Airlines found itself on the defensive again yesterday after a passenger complained that a scorpion stung him during a flight from Texas – capping off a bruising week for the public image of the one of the world’s largest carriers.
A man on board a United flight from Houston to Calgary, Alberta on Sunday, said a scorpion dropped on his head from an overhead storage bin and stung him under his fingernail, according the United and media reports.
“We were on the plane about an hour, having dinner, and then something fell on my head, so I grabbed it,” passenger Richard Bell told CBS in a Skype interview on its website.
Bell said another passenger who was Mexican told him, “‘Hey, that’s a scorpion, they’re dangerous,’ … That’s when it stung.”
United flight attendants helped the passenger after he was bitten “by what appeared to be a scorpion,” airline spokeswoman Maddie King said in an email yesterday – adding that a physician on the ground assured the crew that “it was not a life-threatening matter.”
United is “reaching out to the customer to apologise and discuss the matter,” she said.
The airline spent the week scrambling to contain the fallout from a video that emerged on social media showing security officers dragging a bloodied passenger off an overbooked United Express flight in Chicago on Sunday as other travelers looked on in horror.
Dr David Dao, a 69-year-old Vietnamese-American doctor, suffered a concussion and broken nose when dragged from the plane and will likely sue, his attorney said on Thursday.
His lawyers have filed an emergency request with an Illinois court to require the carrier to preserve video recordings and other evidence related to the incident.
After the incident triggered international outrage, United chief executive Oscar Munoz apologised to Dao, his family and its customers, saying the carrier would no longer use law enforcement officers to remove passengers from overbooked flights.
The airline yesterday also said it is changing its policy on booking its own flight crews onto its planes after the passenger was dragged off an overbooked flight to make way for a United employee on Sunday.
The airline, owned by United Continental Holdings Inc, said it would make sure crews travelling on their aircraft are booked into seats at least 60 minutes before departure, in an emailed statement.
It said the new policy would ensure that a situation in which a passenger is forcibly removed from a plane does not occur again. United said the change is an initial step as it reviews policies in order to “deliver the best customer experience.”
United’s board apologised to Dao and his family, and said it stands behind Munoz, who has been under fire in the wake of the incident. Munoz has said he has no plans to resign.
Meanwhile, USA Today reported Delta Air Lines began offering its agents greater flexibility for dealing with overbooked flights, including eye-popping compensation up to US$9,950 to travellers who agree to give up their seats.
While it sounds generous, tickets themselves such as a last-minute fare from Atlanta to Johannesburg can reach those heights. But the memo that Delta sent its workers reinforced the company’s priority for reaching an agreement with passengers voluntarily over missing a flight, rather than involuntarily denying boarding.