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United reveals settlement, new policies

Associated Press logo Associated Press 27/04/2017 David Koenig

United Airlines has tried to staunch criticism - and any customer defections - by reaching a settlement with a passenger dragged off one of its planes two weeks ago and issuing new policies designed to prevent similar customer-service failures.

On April 9, Kentucky physician David Dao was forcibly removed from a flight after refusing to give up his seat to a crew member. The incident ignited a debate about poor service and a lack of customer-friendly policies on US airlines.

United and lawyers for Dao declined to disclose financial terms of the settlement on Thursday. Earlier, United announced steps it would take to reduce overbooking of flights. Among other things, the airline said it will raise the limit on payments to customers who give up seats on oversold flights to $US10,000 ($A13,382) ($A13,382), and it will improve training of employees.

Dao's lawyer, Thomas Demetrio, praised the airline and its CEO, Oscar Munoz, for accepting responsibility and not blaming others, including the city of Chicago, whose airport security officers yanked Dao from his seat and dragged him off the United Express plane.

Dao never filed a lawsuit against United, but Demetrio had said legal action was likely.

Dao was waiting to fly to Louisville, Kentucky, an April 9 when the airline decided it needed four seats for Republic Airline crew members who needed to travel to work another United Express flight in Louisville the next morning. When Dao and his wife were selected for bumping, he refused to leave.

Video of the incident has sparked more than two weeks of withering criticism and mockery of United. Munoz initially blamed Dao, but later said he was horrified by the event and called it a failure on United's part.

On Thursday, United released a report on the incident that outlined new policies to prevent a repeat. The airline vowed to reduce, but not eliminate, overbooking - the selling of more tickets than there are seats on the plane.

United won't say whether ticket sales have dropped, but the airline's CEO acknowledged the Dao incident could be damaging.

"I breached public trust with this event and how we responded," Oscar Munoz told The Associated Press. "People are upset, and I suspect that there are a lot of people potentially thinking of not flying us."

To head off customer defections, United had already announced that it will no longer call police to remove passengers from overbooked flights, and will require airline crews travelling for work to check in sooner. On Thursday, it added several other new policies.

One of these is raising the limit on compensation to $US10,000 ($A13,400) for customers who give up their seats starting Friday. That is a maximum - it's unclear how many, if any, passengers would see that much. The current limit is $US1,350. Delta Air Lines earlier this month raised its limit to $US9,950.

United said it will send displaced passengers or crew members to nearby airports, putting them on other airlines or arranging for car transportation to get them to their destinations.

The airline also plans to reduce overbooking, particularly on flights with a poor track record of finding volunteers to give up their seats, but won't end the practice. Munoz said if airlines can't overbook there will be more empty seats and fares will rise.

Earlier Thursday Southwest Airlines, which bumped the most passengers off its planes in 2016, announced plans to stop overbooking flights, citing the United incident as a catalyst.

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