United Airlines won't be punished by the federal government over a passenger's forced removal from a flight in April that put a spotlight on the growing tensions between airlines and travelers.
The Department of Transportation has concluded its investigation into the dragging of passenger David Dao and found no reason to fine the airline, the department said in a letter to United dated May 12.
Dao, a passenger on a flight from Chicago to Louisville, Ky., was dragged from his seat and down the airplane aisle by airport security officers after refusing to give up the seat, which United wanted an airline crew member to use instead.
The 69-year-old Kentucky physician suffered a broken nose, a concussion and lost two teeth. Video of the incident posted on the Internet went viral.
The Transportation Department's two-page letter was released Wednesday by a passenger advocacy group, Flyers Rights, which obtained it through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Paul Hudson, president of the group, criticized the federal agency's conclusions, calling the removal of Dao "egregious in every sense of the word."
"For the Department of Transportation to conclude that United Airlines' conduct did not warrant an enforcement action is a dereliction of duty," he added.
United said "this incident should never have happened" and noted that it has adopted several policy changes to avoid similar problems in the future.
"While we still have work to do, we have made meaningful strides that improve our customer experience demonstrated by an almost 90% reduction of involuntary denied boardings year-over-year since May 1," the airline said in a statement.
According to the Department of Transportation letter, its investigation of the April 9 incident found that United Airlines failed to calculate the proper compensation for one of the five passengers who were removed from the flight. Also, the Chicago-based airline neglected to give Dao and his wife a written copy of the federal rules regarding how airlines may proceed when flights are overbooked.
But the Transportation Department also said it found no proof that United used race, national origin, gender or religion criteria to discriminate against any of the passengers removed from the plane.
The department said that the airline later corrected its error in providing the wrong compensation for the one passenger, and that it failed to give written notice of federal overbooking rules to Dao and his wife only because the couple quickly left the airplane for the hospital due to Dao's injuries.
"We generally pursue enforcement action when a carrier exhibits a pattern or practice of noncompliance with the department's consumer protection regulations and federal anti-discrimination statutes that we enforce," the agency said. "Therefore, we conclude that enforcement action is not warranted in this matter."
The agency said it did not investigate the conduct of the three Chicago airport police officers who dragged Dao from his seat when he refused to exit the plane after being told by the flight crew that he would have to take a later flight.
"We did not review the actions of the security officers of the Chicago Department of Aviation because it is not DOT's role to investigate police conduct," the letter said.
Four airport police officers involved in removing Dao from the plane were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.
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12:15 p.m.: This article was updated with a response from United Airlines.