United Airlines' passenger-dragging incident hasn't hurt the bottom line

United Airlines’ passenger-dragging scandal hurt the carrier’s image but has yet to damage the airline’s bottom line, data released Monday show.

During the same month that aviation security officers dragged Dr. David Dao from his seat on a flight from Chicago to Louisville, Ky., United posted the strongest gains for the year in terms of key gauges including passengers served and seats filled compared with the year-earlier period.

Dao was injured and bloodied when he was pulled from the crowded flight after he refused to give up his seat. United had picked Dao and three others to remove from the plane so that airline employees could travel.

The April 9 incident, which was caught on cellphone video and seen worldwide, forced the carrier to apologize, adopt 10 new policy changes to improve passenger service, and reach an undisclosed settlement with Dao. United executives were even called to explain themselves before congressional panels.

Despite widespread criticism, United on Monday reported strong numbers for its April operations.

United carried 12 million passengers last month, a 7.6% increase compared with the previous April, the airline reported. The number of revenue passenger miles, which is calculated by multiplying the number of paying passengers by the distance traveled, grew 7.4% to 17.5 billion, the airline said.

The percentage of seats filled on each plane — known as the load factor — increased by 2.6 percentage points to 83.1%.

The Chicago-based carrier also said it finished ahead of its U.S. competitors in on-time arrival and departure rates and had the fewest cancellations for the month.

United’s April gains were the best so far this year: United reported a 4.5% increase in passengers and a 4% increase in revenue miles in January compared with the year-earlier period; a 0.4% decrease in passengers and a 0.4% drop in revenue miles in February; and a 5% increase in passengers and a 3% increase in revenue miles in March.

Shares for the parent company of the airline, United Continental Holdings Inc., have rebounded from the loss they suffered shortly after video of the incident began to spread.

A week after the incident, United Continental shares dropped to a low of $67.75, down from $70.88 on the day before the incident. Shares of the airline company closed Monday at $74.98.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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