Aldermen Propose Changes To Airport Security After Passenger Dragged Off United Plane
Chicago aldermen proposed various measures Wednesday to change how security is handled at city airports after Department of Aviation officers at O’Hare International Airport dragged a man off a United flight last week, an incident that reportedly left the man with a broken nose, missing teeth and a concussion.
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward), who worked at Southwest Airlines for 15 years, introduced an order requesting the consolidation of the Department of Aviation’s security force into the Chicago Police Department.
“As we look at how to better integrate the safety of our airports, again having that single legal authority to act in these situations, I think our liability [in the United incident] may have been less,” Lopez said.
The measure was immediately dismissed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office. Emanuel spokesman Matthew McGrath said the problem on the plane “was a lack of judgement, not the lack of a weapon, and this wouldn't solve that problem.”
Lopez wasn’t the only alderman trying to legislate around the United debacle. A group of six aldermen — including powerful Ald. Ed Burke (14th Ward) and Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd Ward), who is the chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Aviation — want to prohibit city employees from assisting airline personnel in the removal of passengers.
In a statement, Burke said the council “needs to act decisively to ensure that no City employee will participate in any future incident that involves the removal of a passenger at Chicago’s airports.”
Burke said the proposal would allow city employees to board a plane only if a crime were committed or if they were responding to a medical emergency.
The mayor’s office isn’t a fan of that, either. McGrath said that Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans acted “swiftly” in her response by suspending the officers involved in the United episode, and that Evans is doing a “thorough review of the incident, which we're not going to get ahead of.”
During a City Council hearing last week, Evans told aldermen that an outside security expert is reviewing department procedures and how security officers handled the situation.
Many aldermen during the hearing voiced concerns that the United fiasco will leave city taxpayers on the hook if the passenger, David Dao, decides to file a lawsuit. Dao’s attorney last week told reporters that a lawsuit is “likely.”
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz on Tuesday said no airline employees involved in the incident will be fired. He said United is conducting its own investigation that will conclude by the end of the month.
Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ. You can follow her at @laurenchooljian.