According to The Courier-Journal, a passenger on a flight from Chicago to Louisville was forcibly removed from the airplane after the airline overbooked the flight and no passenger was willing to give up his or her seat for a stipend from the airline. Three members of security apparently begin speaking with the man, who refused to leave; they then grabbed him and yanked him out of his seat and dragged him from the plane.
Here’s what a spokesperson for the airline had to say:
Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation. Further details on the removed customer should be directed elsewhere.
The Courier-Journal reports that passengers were told that the plane had been overbooked by four seats. The airline offered a $400 travel voucher and a hotel stay, which nobody took them up on. At that point, they had the computer randomly select four travelers on the flight and tell them to give up their seats to United employees who were required in Louisville for the next day. One doctor, who said he needed to see patients in the morning, refused to get out of his seat, at which point security carted him of.
Here’s The Courier-Journal:
[Witness Audra Bridges] said the man became "very upset" and said that he was a doctor who needed to see patients at a hospital in the morning. The manager told him that security would be called if he did not leave willingly, Bridges said, and the man said he was calling his lawyer… The man was able to get back on the plane after initially being taken off – his face was bloody and he seemed disoriented, Bridges said, and he ran to the back of the plane. Passengers asked to get off the plane as a medical crew came on to deal with the passenger, she said, and passengers were then told to go back to the gate so that officials could "tidy up" the plane before taking off.
United Airlines is taking a serious hit publicly for this incident, as well it should. It’s appalling.
Here’s what the United contract of carriage states: “All of UA’s flights are subject to overbooking which could result in UA’s inability to provide previously confirmed reserved space for a given flight or for the class of service reserved.” Under Rule 25 of their code of carriage, United states that it will request volunteers, but that if nobody volunteers, they can deny people boarding “involuntarily in accordance with UA’s boarding priority.” If you are removed from a flight involuntarily, the airline pays you a multiple of the airfare beyond your original ticket.
This isn’t an unreasonable policy, actually – passengers routinely miss flights, and overbooking is common practice in order to fill planes instead of wasting money and time flying extra routes.
But there are two elements here that are unreasonable, if not legally, than in terms of business. First, there’s the question of the airline employees bumping paying passengers. Yes, the airlines have contracts with their unions that require a certain number of staffers on particular flights. But when the unions trump the customers, the business is doing a terrible job. I’ll admit this has happened to me: I’ve been forced to miss a speech before hundreds of college students because the airline cancelled my flight, then refused to book me on the next flight in order to fly a bunch of its own employees.
Second, there’s the problem of force. Why didn’t United decide which passengers were bumped before boarding them? Or better yet, keep upping the offer until somebody on the plane took it? $400 isn’t a lot of money to give to somebody to compensate them for having to stay overnight in a location that prevents them from working the next day. Is there any question that if the company had simply upped its bid, somebody would have taken them up on it?
In the end, people will call for government regulation – but this is actually an excellent example of the market working. United will take an insanely big public relations hit today, and they’ll lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over this fiasco. Their stock price may even be affected. They’ll change their policy to ensure this never happens again. Other companies will take advantage with better service. And customers will be better served.
And that customer who was removed will be amply compensated in settlement, too.