CHICAGO (AP/CNN/KHON2) — Video of police officers dragging a passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight sparked an uproar Monday on social media, and a spokesman for the airline insisted that employees had no choice but to contact authorities to remove the man.
As the flight waited to depart from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, officers could be seen grabbing the screaming man from a window seat, pulling him across the armrest and dragging him down the aisle by his arms. The airline was trying to make room for four of its employees on the Sunday evening flight to Louisville, Kentucky.
Other passengers on Flight 3411 are heard saying, “Please, my God,” “What are you doing?” “This is wrong,” “Look at what you did to him” and “Busted his lip.”
Passenger Audra D. Bridges posted the video on Facebook. Her husband, Tyler Bridges, said United offered $400 and then $800 vouchers and a hotel stay for volunteers to give up their seats. When no one volunteered, a United manager came on the plane and announced that passengers would be chosen at random.
“We almost felt like we were being taken hostage,” Tyler Bridges said. “We were stuck there. You can’t do anything as a traveler. You’re relying on the airline.”
When airline employees named four customers who had to leave the plane, three of them did so. The fourth person refused to move, and police were called, United spokesman Charlie Hobart said.
“We followed the right procedures,” Hobart told the Associated Press in a phone interview. “That plane had to depart. We wanted to get our customers to their destinations.”
Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines’ parent company, described the event as “upsetting” and apologized for “having to re-accommodate these customers.” He said the airline was conducting a review and reaching out to the passenger to “further address and resolve this situation.”
The passenger told the manager that he was a doctor who needed to see patients in the morning, Bridges said.
Two officers tried to reason with the man before a third came aboard and pointed at the man “basically saying, ‘Sir, you have to get off the plane,'” Bridges said. That’s when the altercation happened.
The Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement that the incident “was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions of the aviation security officer are obviously not condoned by the Department.”
That officer has been placed on leave effective today pending a review of the situation, the statement added.
The four United employees then boarded the plane.
“People on the plane were letting them have it,” he said. “They were saying you should be ashamed to work for this company.”
A few minutes later, the man who was removed from the plane returned, looking dazed and saying he had to get home, Bridges said. Officers followed him to the back of the plane. Another man traveling with high school students stood up at that point and said they were getting off the plane, Bridges said.
About half of the passengers followed before United told everyone to get off, he said.
The man who was originally dragged down the aisle was removed from the plane again, and United employees made an announcement saying they had to “tidy up” the aircraft, Bridges said.
Bridges’ wife told him she saw the man taken away on a stretcher, he said.
After a three-hour delay the flight took off without the man aboard, Bridges said. A United employee apologized to passengers, he said.
Airline passengers KHON2 spoke with were shocked at what happened.
“That’s absurd. That’s about as inhumane as we can get,” said Natalie Medina. “I don’t know what’s going on in the world, but this is just not right and it shouldn’t be tolerated.”
“I think it’s awful to do something like that to a human being,” said Susan Hunnell. “I wonder if they have another option rather than dragging the man out.”
Airlines are allowed to sell more tickets than there are seats on the plane, and they routinely overbook flights because some people do not show up.
It’s not unusual for airlines to offer travel vouchers to encourage people to give up their seats, and there are no rules for the process.
In most cases passengers are asked to volunteer before they board, not when they’re already seated. Aviation expert Peter Forman says that’s one of the mistakes United made.
“They sometimes have to make these last-minute decisions, and if you can catch the passengers before they get the boarding passes, the airline is in fine shape,” said Forman, “but once passengers get on the airplane, as you can see from the video, it’s a tough deal for the airline, and it’s a bad idea to physically remove them.”
The incident has become a public relations nightmare for the airline, and experts tell us it probably could have been avoided if the passengers were offered more money to take another flight.
“That said, it was really a dumb thing for the airline to actually physically drag this passenger off,” said Forman. “They could have just upped the amount of money they were offering for the ticket and be done with it.”
When an airline demands that a passenger give up a seat, the airline is required to pay compensation of double the passenger’s fare, up to $675, if the passenger can be placed on another flight that arrives one to two hours later than the first flight, or four times the ticket price, up to $1,350, for longer delays.
When they bump passengers, airlines are required to give those passengers a written description of their compensation rights.
Hobart declined to say how the airline compensated the passengers who were forced to leave the plane, saying he did not have those details from employees on the scene.
Last year, United forced 3,765 people off oversold flights and another 62,895 United passengers volunteered to give up their seats, probably in exchange for travel vouchers.
That’s out of more than 86 million people who boarded a United flight in 2016, according to government figures. United ranks in the middle of U.S. carriers when it comes to bumping passengers.
ExpressJet, which operates flights under the United Express, American Eagle and Delta Connection names, had the highest rate of bumping passengers last year. Among the largest carriers, Southwest Airlines had the highest rate, followed by JetBlue Airways.
Bridges said United should not have boarded the flight if it was overbooked.
“The man handled it wrong,” he said. “The police were kind of put in a bad spot. There’s a lot of ways United could have handled it, and that was not one of the good ways.”
Honolulu attorney Michael Green says United faces a major lawsuit.
“The outrage of doing that, you know what? You want to overbook, you take the risk of what happened, but passengers aren’t told, ‘By the way, I’ve got to tell you, we’re booking the flight, we’re taking your money, but maybe you won’t be able to be on that flight,'” Green said.
Yes, you can be ‘involuntarily de-boarded’ – CNN
After the man was removed, passenger Jade Kelley said he somehow returned to the plane with blood on his face.
Airline spokespeople Maddie King and Charlie Hobart could not explain why the passenger was allowed to board only to be forcibly removed. Nor could they confirm Kelley’s claim that the man returned to the plane and was escorted off a second time, peacefully.
Overbooking is not illegal, and most airlines do it in anticipation of no-shows, according to the US Department of Transportation. If no one volunteers, the airline can select passengers for removal based on criteria such as check-in time or the cost of a ticket, according to the US Department of Transportation’s Fly-Rights.
DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn’t. Those travelers who don’t get to fly are frequently entitled to denied boarding compensation in the form of a check or cash. The amount depends on the price of their ticket and the length of the delay:
CHICAGO (AP) — Below is the text of the letter United Airlines’ parent company CEO Oscar Munoz sent to employees after a passenger was dragged from a United plane at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The summary below the letter was compiled by United:
Like you, I was upset to see and hear about what happened last night aboard United Express Flight 3411 headed from Chicago to Louisville. While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clearer picture of what transpired, I’ve included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees.
As you will read, this situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right.
I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident. Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are, and we must always remember this no matter how challenging the situation.
Summary of Flight 3411
- On Sunday, April 9, after United Express Flight 3411 was fully boarded, United’s gate agents were approached by crewmembers that were told they needed to board the flight.
- We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to $1,000 in compensation) and when we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions.
- He was approached a few more times after that in order to gain his compliance to come off the aircraft, and each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent.
- Our agents were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist in removing the customer from the flight. He repeatedly declined to leave.
- Chicago Aviation Security Officers were unable to gain his cooperation and physically removed him from the flight as he continued to resist – running back onto the aircraft in defiance of both our crew and security officials.