The skies might be friendly, but United? Not so much

From the Chicago Tribune:

Videos of a United Airlines passenger being forcibly dragged from his seat to make room for airline crew members on a Sunday overbooked flight at O’Hare International Airport have been viewed more than 1 million times, and the airline’s CEO on Monday called the incident “an upsetting event to all of us here at United.”

“I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened,” United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement Monday. Munoz said the airline is trying to reach the passenger to “further address and resolve this situation.”


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In videos of the incident aboard an United Express flight bound for Louisville, Ky., a man screams as security officers pull him from his seat. He then falls silent as they drag him by the hands, with his glasses askew and his shirt pulled up over his abdomen, down the aisle. Several passengers yell at the officers. “Oh my God, look at what you did to him,” one woman yells.

The aviation security officer who pulled the man from his seat was placed on leave Monday, “pending a thorough review of the situation,” the Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement.


United confirmed passengers were made to give up their seats for crew members that needed to work on flights departing Louisville. “Had they not gotten to their destination on time, that would have inconvenienced many more customers,” said United spokesman Charlie Hobart.

The United Express flight was operated by Republic Airways, and the four crew members were Republic employees, he said.

It wasn’t clear why the airline waited until passengers were in their seats to bump them from the flight.


[Fellow passenger Tyler] Bridges said passengers were then told a computer would select four passengers. When the man who was removed was selected, he contested, saying he was a doctor who needed to see patients Monday morning. Bridges’ wife, Audra, posted a video of the incident on Facebook, which has been shared more than 49,000 times and viewed 3.8 million times.


Airlines bump passengers off overbooked flights all the time, but it’s rare for them to do so after passengers are already in their seats, said Brian Sumers, airline business reporter at travel industry website Skift.

“If you do it by the gate, you may make someone very upset, but you’re never going to get in a situation where you need to forcibly remove them,” Sumers said.

It’s also unusual that United was unable to find passengers willing to give up their seats in exchange for the travel vouchers.

Travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt questioned why United didn’t simply offer a larger sum.


Let’s be clear here. Airlines can, in many instances, do whatever they want. We’re living in post-9/11 skies these days, and airlines have wide latitude to throw off everyone from suspected terrorists to the highly-allergic. And if the flight is simply overbooked, airlines can throw off whoever they want in that case too. Being thrown off an airplane is called “involuntary denied boarding ,” and there are rules. The airline must first seek volunteers to give up their reservation for some kind of compensation, usually money. If they must bump a passenger off the flight, the airline must 1) notify the passenger of his or her rights in writing 2) compensate the passenger with a check or cash unless they can rebook you on a flight that arrives within an hour of your original scheduled arrival. Bumped passengers are entitled to 200 percent of the one-way ticket price, capped at $650.

But the bag of magical powers airlines have does not include the right to batter, frighten or embarrass their passengers. And, in this case, the airline could be in some deep legal trouble. Sure, there’s no question that this passenger needed to exit the plane, but his refusal to do so doesn’t trigger United’s right to initiate a total free-for-all. Under the law, property owners often have the right to physically remove trespassers – but that removal must always be done reasonably.

Even if this incident had not occurred on an airplane, it still would have been problematic. Banging a trespasser’s head into an armrest doesn’t seem “reasonable” in any regard. But on an airplane, it’s extra wrong. Airlines are considered “common carriers,” which means that for tort purposes, they are held to a higher standard of care. They’re expected to be more careful, more courteous, and more protective of individuals than the average person needs to be. Bruising and battering a passenger, even if that passenger were being de-planed, falls well outside the standard of care for anyone – but especially for airlines.

The article continues and says that, if the doctor had been unable to get to his destination because of United’s actions, his patients might be able to sue as well if they can’t get timely care, especially because he told United and the police that he is a doctor who has patients who need treatment. Not only that, the other passengers can sue for emotional distress. There were little kids watching all of this.

I think United really flew into  stepped into a pile of shit this time. The passenger wasn’t even wearing leggings!


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10 responses to “The skies might be friendly, but United? Not so much

  1. “re-accommodate”, that’s a new one for the books. With any luck, United will not be faced with any more over booking problems.

    • What the hell is wrong with these corporations? Are they so secure that they are untouchable that they just don’t give a shit how they treat customers? Can’t really blame their thinking that, because with Gorsuch on the court, there’s no way any mere mortal is going to get a fair shake in the courts.

  2. Very disturbing in so many ways. Things that are now happening are unbelievable. I was aghast when I initially read about the incident. I hope the man who is a physician or not, sues the socks off United.

    • I hope he does, his patients and every passenger on that flight. It amazes me that these CEOs get paid ridiculous amounts of money, and all they do is make things worse, because they are so tone-deaf in their responses. If they just looked at things like human beings, they would be appalled, and they would offer sincere apologies, not these bullshit statements.

      • I was shocked to read that United’s CEO praised the actions of the crew. He had best rethink his statement. I read that the Chinese are vey unhappy. I hope they boycott United and their visits to the US as well. Time will tell. It’s going to be interesting.

  3. the loony tic

    it’s beyond the pale. what does it say about corporations who use physical force when they don’t get their way? my parents used to spank us. perhaps that’s next.

    • If Munoz had responded like a human being the first time, it might have helped. Instead, like most CEOs, he put his stockholders before his customers. That always backfires. He could have been a human being and put himself in the shoes of the doctor who was publicly humiliated and inconvenienced. If he had, he would have apologized sincerely the first time instead of waiting for highly paid PR people to tell him what to say. Instead, they now have a PR nightmare, the stock price is down, and there are a lot of people who will never fly United again. I, for one, feel bad for the man dragged down the cabin’s aisle, but I’m glad it happened. It exposed the fact that we live in a corpocracy. The individual citizen lives at the mercy of giant corporations. The addition of Neil “let the trucker freeze to death” Gorsuch makes that even more apparent. Let this be a warning to every voter out there. Want to be legally dragged through a plane, be spied on by your internet provider and have absolutely no rights when it comes to your employment? Keep voting Rethuglican! 😡