On Sunday night, a United Airlines passenger was forcibly removed from his seat after the airline overbooked a flight from Chicago to Louisville.
The man, who has yet to be identified, refused to leave his seat after flight attendants chose him and his wife at random to give up their seats for crew members due to overbooking.
At the gate, passengers were informed that the flight was overbooked. Flight attendants asked for volunteers, offering $400 and a hotel stay in exchange for taking a flight the following day. Once the flight was filled and there were still no volunteers the offer was increased to $800. After no one responded to the new offer, rather than raise the compensation level, a United Airlines manager boarded the plane and announced that the computer would randomly select four passengers to give up their seat. The first couple selected deplaned without incident.
However, the third passenger, a middle-aged man, refused, claiming that he was a doctor who had to be at the hospital on Monday. At that point security personnel boarded the plane and physically removed him.
Videos taken by other passengers show a dramatic ordeal—the man violently removed from his seat and subsequently dragged down the aisle while other passengers, visibly upset, cry and scream.
In comments to the Resurgent, Jade Kelley, a passenger on flight 3411, gave her take on what happened:
“Last night I boarded flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville. While waiting at the gate, the other passengers and I were informed that United Airlines had overbooked the flight and needed one volunteer to depart the aircraft. United offered a $400 voucher and a one night stay in a hotel. The voucher was increased to $800 but nobody came forward. We were warned that a computer would randomly select 4 passengers to disembark if nobody volunteered.”
Kelley continued, “An Asian gentleman and his wife were going to volunteer, but declined because they were told the next flight out of Louisville was not until 2am. The gentleman claimed he was a doctor and needed to be back in Louisville by Monday morning to see his patients. After he and his wife sat back down, an airlines representative approached him and said that the computer had randomly selected him and his wife to leave the plane. The gentleman and his wife both refused. The representative warned that she would call security if they would not get up. The man continued to refuse. At that point, a security guard entered the plane and was instructed by United’s representative to remove the passenger.”
Describing the scene, Kelley said, “I was seated in the aisle seat across from the gentleman. A security officer instructed me and the woman beside me to move out of the way. We moved towards the back of the plane and the three security officers were in front of us. The officer in blue jeans reached towards the gentleman and violently dragged him off the plane. Stunned, passengers voiced their anger to the officers. I returned to my seat shaking and crying.”
After the incident, the entire plane was forced to deplane. After thirty minutes the plane was re-boarded. Jade described the mood as “solemn.”
Reflecting on the event, Kelley said, “I was very distraught by the way security officers hauled the gentleman off the flight. His face was slammed into an armrest and his whole body seemed limp as he left the plane. He was treated as if he was a criminal, not a United Airline’s customer.”
On Monday morning, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz released a statement: “This is 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. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”
Although it appears that Sunday night’s incident was legal—airlines possess the legal right to remove customers from flights and even request police enforcement if passengers refuse to comply—United Airlines now faces a torrent of criticism and a public relations nightmare.