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Apr 11, 2017

United drags protesting passenger off overbooked flight

Few if any of us are going to have a boarding experience like this with our flights this month

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A frame from CNN’s coverage of United versus a passenger

Boarding flights at US airports has often been a confronting experience for visitors from more civilised, gentler places, but what happened at Chicago’s main airport overnight sets new lows for brutish and stupid behavior.

The video capture from a CNN report above is but one of thousands of excruciatingly graphic reports going to air in the US at this hour, all of them grinding the reputation of United Airlines into the dirt through the power of raw and immediate social media.

It is difficult to imagine this happening ever in this country, no matter what the pressure of passenger demand on available flights in the future.

At this stage the root cause of the incident seems to have been the inability of United, one of the largest airlines in the world, to manage its own passenger inventories, following hard on an inability to effectively roster staff for duty across its huge network.

The passenger selected, for whatever reason, for forcible removal from the overbooked flight, is said in some reports to be a surgeon on his way to an operating theatre.

Since this ‘event’ took place, the argument as to what it meant, and who was really responsible, and whether or not anyone in United can string together a grammatically correct and useful statement on the issues that have arisen is best followed by going directly to US media sites via a search engine.

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36 comments

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36 thoughts on “United drags protesting passenger off overbooked flight

  1. Dan Dair

    On a news website I read this statement, attributed to a United Airlines spokesman:
    “After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate”.

    Which appears to decipher as;
    the person concerned would not volunteer, voluntarily,
    so the airport security services volunteered him against his will.

    I also read that the surgeon was flying home with his wife & was due to be at work the following morning.

    Further, it appears that the flight was not overbooked in the traditional sense, but that the United booking system & gate staff had not allowed for the ‘fact’ that a four person aircrew were arranged to travel on this flight, to position them for a subsequent duty.
    Normally on an overbooking, passengers would be offered incentives to not board the aircraft, but it seems that on this occasion the plane was already boarded when United staff realised that their ‘spare’ crew had no seats allocated & at that point they asked for volunteers to disembark.

    The passenger concerned had a completely valid ticket & presented no security risk at all.
    Not only is the situation shambolic,
    but the passenger being apparently brutally manhandled off the aircraft, is a scathing indictment of United airlines and the security staff at O’Hare airport.

  2. comet

    But the flight wasn’t overbooked by paying passengers.

    There were enough seats for all paying passengers. United Airlines removed paying passengers to clear space for airline staff members who were rostered to work in other cities.

  3. comet

    United Airlines gives you this:
    1. Squished seating on a 787 Dreamliner
    2. No leggings to be worn by women (similar rule to Iran Air)
    3. When they need to transport staff on a heavily booked flight you’ll get forcibly removed
    4. United breaks guitars

  4. freddagg

    That is going to be one monumental lawsuit

    1. Dan Dair

      I agree with you.

      This isn’t a ‘traditional’ overbooking incident.
      This is an instance of a person getting onto a flight with a valid ticket, a valid boarding pass & presenting no security risk.
      United have no rights to remove any individual in such circumstances, against their will.

      The CEO can posture all he likes & can try to claim overbooking or disruptive influence, but the fact remains, United staff & O’hare security brutally forced a reasonably elderly man off an aircraft against his will, with no legitimate justification.

      Bearing in mind the number of first-hand witnesses & the amount of video-evidence available, I would imagine that the doctor in question will end up with more cash in his bank after the lawsuit, than United have in their bank at the moment.?

  5. comet

    Overbooking flights stinks. Here’s why:

    Most people book in advance with a non-refundable ticket. The airlines get the money anyway, even if you don’t show up. So why do they need to overbook?

    1. ghostwhowalksnz

      I think the US has a culture of airlines over booking and customers making multiple bookings. It all comes to a head on the last flight of the day.

      1. Tango

        You should ask a US Citizen thank you of which I am one.
        No, we do not do multiple bookings. You either pay immediately or shortly after you get your ticket.

        The airlines have found there are a certain number of now shows (or used to be, now there is a line just waiting for a now show)

        They then started overbooking based on a computer program.

        Said program is wrong often and then they start this nonsense.

        1. ghostwhowalksnz

          Comments I have read elsewhere indicate its far more common in US. Business travellors with cabin luggage are more likely to have flexible tickets, meetings that can go longer or shorter and are more likely to know the system so that a hold up with one flight means they can easily jump to another and travel that day. This particular route had quite high frequencies with smaller regional jets as they know frequency is king for frequent travellors

    2. Ian Roberts

      So they can sell a few seats twice and get more money if there are some no shows.

  6. derrida derider

    Pretty horrific. If I was CEO of United I’d be offering a very quick but very large compensation settlement and then sack everyone involved – especially those supposed to have trained these people.

    But then again United seems to have a real culture problem with an unusual view of customer service prevalent (as Comet notes). So perhaps it’s the CEO who should be sacked.

  7. ghostwhowalksnz

    part of the problem is that the flights were operated by a contractor, Republic using an EMB170, under United Express name.
    Thats why they do what they do, no consequences for Republic and their staff. Even the check-in staff who made the monumental mistake of letting all the paying people on board first maybe contractors through another company.

  8. Mark Skinner

    Ben, are you sure it was an overbooked flight? Some accounts of the incident say that there was no overbooking, but after everyone was seated, the airline decided to take people off to make way for crew positioning.

    The reason this is important, is that while the rules and contract of carriage deal with overbooking, if having bums on seats, THEN deciding to put staff in those seats isn’t technically overbooking, then it could be a whole lot different. I note the tweets from United’s CEO states “overbooking”, but if the bumpee could argue there was no overbooking, rather an arbitrary breach of contract to suit the business, then it might be something much more than a PR debacle.

    Coming on the heels of the “leggings” issue, you’d think United would be a little more wary of this sort of thing.

  9. Zipper

    I thought the guy was an idiot, if they ask you to leave then leave, they’ll sort yr ticket out way or other and get you on another flight, no need to carry on like a petulant cry baby about it, he also ran back onto the plane after he was pulled off, that’s a big no no, what did he expect was going to happen, he deserved to get dragged off the way he did, if he was on my flight I would of helped them! I’ve flown United many times and they’ve been great, also ALL airlines overbook, not just the states, been happening a long time now, so don’t get why people are surprised by that..

    1. Mark Skinner

      While that’s quite true zipper, the amount of negative publicity is going to cost United a lot of bad advertising. Even if they are right, it will cost them more than offering more money to find a couple of volunteers. Businesses are there to make money, shareholders aren’t going to thank the company if it saves a few hundred dollars on the one hand, but loses customers on the other.

      Now, what if it turns out the guy has a legal claim on the company? You might think he hasn’t, but if a jury disagrees?

      Sometimes being right isn’t enough, you have to use common sense. United didn’t.

      1. Zipper

        Bad publicly? Yeh maybe for a moment but most people won’t give a dam, they’ll watch the video have a giggle and move onto something else, I mean in the grand scheme of things it’s no big deal, it’s just a one of incident so who cares? the guy shouldn’t have carried on like he did, simple as that, it won’t influence me if I want to fly United again, not over this whopper..

        1. comet

          Obviously you don’t care that United use racial profiling to decide who to ‘randomly’ bump off the flight.

          Obviously you don’t care that United uses gender stereotypes to determine what women should or shouldn’t wear.

          And United breaks guitars! I still haven’t forgotten that one after some years.

    2. Mick Gilbert

      Zipper, the matter really turns on whether United were within their rights to involuntarily remove passengers once they had boarded. Under United’s own Contract of Carriage the determination as to whether they have an Overbooked Flight should be made prior to boarding. RULE 25 DENIED BOARDING COMPENSATION is pretty clear in that the process of voluntarily and involuntarily denying passengers carriage on an Overbooked Flight is meant to occur prior to boarding. Here we had an airplane full of paying passengers who had already been issued with boarding passes and who had boarded the flight. Technically, United’s right to deny boarding involuntarily is extinguished once they commence boarding.
      So, if Rule 25 no longer applies after boarding, then the manner in which passengers can be dealt falls under RULE 21 REFUSAL OF TRANSPORT and the airline does not have an unfettered right to simply deplane passengers under that rule.
      A lot of people think that the airlines can do whatever they want, most of them certainly act that way, but passengers have rights under the Contract of Carriage too.

    3. ghostwhowalksnz

      Zipper there was no other flight with United for that day on that route. There was an American Eagle flight leaving an hour later but they would crawl over broken glass before transferring to another airline.
      Well see how you feel next time you are removed from the last flight of the day.

      1. Dan Dair

        Ghostwhowalksnz,
        That’s interesting to know.
        I wonder if there was any space on the American Eagle flight for the four United crew-members.?
        It would have saved a hell of a lot of trouble.?

  10. comet

    Overbooking = A scam

    It’s one of the biggest scams perpetrated by the airline industry.

  11. George Glass

    I think everybody is missing the point.This is a stuff-up. The man had a boarding pass. The flight should not have been closed off overbooked.What normally happens on over-booked flights is that passengers are offered compensation/cash/bribes etc. to travel later.They are NOT given a boarding pass until all issues are resolved.United crewing probably screwed up and forgot to book positioning crew.

  12. Tango

    Ok, the flight was not overbooked.

    It was overcpacity because theyh seatined passenger who had tickets and then realized htye had screwee up and had 4 emplyees to move.

    What they should have done was rented an airplane and got them to their desiatiion (proably cheaper than loosing the reveinue)

    What trhey did was drag a lemgiate person off.

    While its a tehcial queison if the 4 seats were there and they filled with add ins for no shows or if the people had a seat before (ie. not standbgy)

    If it had been standby passengers boarded, they would have removed those first. It sounds like there were not, they did not know if they were or who they were.

    In the end its a balls up and they will suffer the wrath of bad publicity.

    Whatever, its not simple over booking, that is the spin.

    1. Tango

      And yes I have been there.

      Once they offered all sorts of good stuff, a fellow mechanic and I were on the way to a school we were late for (screw up on our company part) , we both needed that school.

      The other time I just wanted to get home and had no desire to get a few goodies. It seems like when you ask for your free trip its no longer valid.

    2. caf

      The distance was apparently short enough that they could have rented a minivan.

  13. nobeljnet

    There are a whole bunch of lessons, boarding while non white, but narrowly, just check out SkyTrax or TripAdvisor and go for five star or above airlines, or low cost, but not anything in the middle!

  14. freddagg

    I wonder if the guy will end up on a ‘no fly’ list someplace

    1. ghostwhowalksnz

      With his payout, even though United are within their legal rights they will pay, he could charter an executive jet for quite a few trips.
      Remember as well the airport police have stood down ‘ the dragger’ as that wasnt within their SOP.
      It would be great if a court could rule that once you have a boarding pass AND are seated any removals are entirely voluntary.

    2. Allan Moyes

      Why should he? He did nothing wrong – as per the comments from the CEO. If, by some twisted reasoning, United or any other airline were to put him on a “no fly list” that would only increase his payout – and quite rightly.

  15. Zarathrusta

    The man in question is now being derided as not a Doctor by United in social media. Well if he is such a liar, he could become President. It’s more likely he is mentally ill or confused and should not be treated that way. People lie all the time, for all sorts of reasons, especially corporate spokesdroids.

    What I see here is an American proclivity to always escalate, to always use more force all the while being certain one is right. Worse there is an idea that people should not get angry when being mistreated and that raising one’s voice is violence. This is not they case. There is a big difference between being angry and being violent or abusive. Unfortunately some Australian companies seem to be adopting this very flawed idea that being angry is wrong. All that will happen is people will wither silently boycott them for a lifetime or far more likely trash their reputation at every opportunity in any conversation for the rest of their life. Or as we have seen, take it to social media.

    As for United, what a total failure! Their inability to admit any fault. The CEO apologising for getting caught rather than for doing the wrong thing. We stand 100% by our stuff, even if they are utter thugs. If they were crew needing to get to St Louis, why not put them on this plain AS the crew?

    I’ve seen the bump priority list for Compass Airlines (Compass 1). It was very reasonable and not for minor things. Highest priority was to bump passengers in favour of “Compass or Australian Government Officials flying to the scene of an air disaster.”

    There seems to be a major boycott movement against United starting in China, their primary new target market. Personally I don’t think this was racially motivated, looks far more like a grand stuff up.

    For my part, what’s the point of a booking if it isn’t worth the electrons it’s written on? I flew to the US recently and Qatar overbooked. I wasn’t bumped, I was upgraded! Totally different reaction.

    1. Dan Dair

      Zarathrusta,
      “For my part, what’s the point of a booking if it isn’t worth the electrons (or call me old-fashioned, but… paper) it’s written on?”

      I concur.
      Most people buy a ticket for the flight they actively want to travel on, or at least the least worst option available to them.
      If you turn-up at the airport to take that flight & the airline have the authority to ‘bump’ you, what IS the point of booking.?

      I can understand if you’re on the (comparatively) last-minute & you draw the ‘short-straw’ but turning-up in plenty of time & still being refused travel is always going to be extremely harsh for most people.?

  16. endeavour.paul@gmail.com

    All the comments from the CEO so far have been grovelling apologies that most people can see through.
    There is one comment that I have not seen. Maybe the press doesn’t want to print it if it has been said. The most important thing the CEO can say right now is that United will book travelling crew onto flights well in advance and any crew turning up after a flight has boarded will not be given seats already allocated. until he says that, all apologies are worthless.

  17. Allan Moyes

    Good on you Zipper for jumping in with both feet and blaming the passenger. He had purchased a ticket have had done nothing wrong. I suggest you have a look at the interview with the CEO who finally came to his senses and realised this was a major stuff up with incredibly bad publicity. If you listen very carefully – and don’t cover your ears like a good old United fanboy (you’d help them take him off the flight indeed!), you will hear him say that in no way was the passenger responsible or at fault. But go with your prejudices if it helps you . Oh and by the way it’s “I would have, not I would of”. Disgusting attitude.

  18. Kenneth Piaggio

    Did I observe the video correctly?
    It seems, in the ‘enthusiasm’ to remove the man from his seat he was ‘pile driven’, head first, into the armrest of the seat across the aisle from where he was dragged.
    It would explain the blood from his mouth.

    1. Dan Dair

      Kenneth Piaggio,
      Yes you did.
      The doctor concerned lost two teeth as a result of the way he was manhandled / assisted off the aircraft.

      1. Dan Dair

        & broke his nose….

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