Passenger Forcibly Removed From United Express Flight

April 10, 2017

UNLESS YOU’VE BEEN living in a hole over the past couple of weeks, you’ve seen or heard (and maybe, like me, grown very tired of) the story about the passenger being forcibly removed from an overbooked United Express regional jet in Chicago. The accompanying video is a little disturbing to watch.

This might sound like it’s coming from left field, but what I’m sensing here — what lies at the root of this unfortunate episode — was a lack of empowerment. There is no reason that an overbooked flight should result in the forced, physical removal of a passenger by law enforcement. There had to be a better solution. Yet nobody came up with one. Why?

Not all flights are routinely overbooked, and for those that are, it’s done in accordance with tracked data that predicts how many people with reservations are actually going to show up. Once in a while, for any number of reasons, those predictions are off, and there are more passengers than seats. When this happens, somebody, one way or the other, has to give up his or her seat. Who that person is will vary with a somewhat complicated seating hierarchy (when you bought your ticket, when you checked in, etc., are among the variables). To avoid it coming to this, carriers will offer a reward, usually in the form of a travel voucher, in exchange for a seat, and usually with the guarantee of a seat on a flight later that day. The value of the reward is incrementally increased until somebody takes the bait. Almost always they find enough volunteers.

This time, that didn’t happen. That presented a problem. But not a problem serious enough to justify calling the police and pulling a man from his seat and down the aisle. Whether or not the man, upon being asked to deplane, became obstinate or belligerent or anything else does not matter; it never should have come to this point in the first place.

It appears the airline’s staff reached a point where they simply didn’t know what to do, and nobody was brave enough, or resourceful enough, to come up with something. Summoning the police became the easiest and fastest way out. I hate saying it, but airline culture and training is often such that thinking creatively, and the devising of proverbial outside-the-box solutions, is almost actively discouraged. Everything is scripted, regimented, rote and procedural, and employees are often so afraid of being reprimanded for going against the letter of the law, or for making a bad decision — not to mention chronically being pressed for time — that they won’t make a decision at all, or will gladly hand the matter along to somebody else who can then take responsibility. Workers are deterred from thinking creatively exactly when they need to.


Word has it that the airline stopped soliciting volunteers when the reward amount hit eight-hundred dollars. Somewhere it was written, or somebody had been told, not to go higher than this amount. And so nobody dared. This could have been, and should have been, a ridiculously simple situation to remedy: increase the reward amount until the needed volunteers put their hands up. What this required, though, was exactly the thing that airlines seem to be so afraid of: some on-the-spot resourcefulness. (Really this is problem across all of commercial aviation, not just within the airlines. Look at airport security, for example.)

The result has been a priceless amount of negative publicity, and almost certainly a lawsuit to come.

Some airlines are better at this than others, of course, and while it’s a culture and mindset issue, it’s also a logistical one, which makes it even harder to address and fix. The vast size and time-sensitive nature of an airline’s front-line operation, and the heavily compartmentalized pockets in which its employees work, each with their own objectives and expertise, play important roles as well.

I don’t know any more than the average person whose been following the story or who has watched the video. But my experience within the industry brings me to see it this way.

For the record, and to clarify something that virtually nobody has pointed out: this was a United Express flight, not a United Airlines flight, operated by a contractor company called Republic Airways (no relation to the original Republic Airlines, which no longer exists). The crewmembers were not United employees at all. That doesn’t mitigate what happened, and the flight was operated on United’s behalf, using its livery and branding, which makes United at least equally responsible. But, it’s a factual aspect of the story that has gone unmentioned. I don’t know which employees — Republic crewmembers or mainline United customer service employees in the terminal — were the ones who made the call to have the passenger taken off.

Apparently, the passenger was removed to accommodate a United or United Express crewmember. A lot is being made about this, understandably. To be clear, no carrier would deny boarding to a revenue passenger in order to accommodate an employee riding on his or her leisure time. We presume, in this case, the employee was a deadheading crew on assignment, being repositioned to fly elsewhere. Pilots or cabin staff on repositioning flights are considered a high priority. Hundreds of passengers could be affected further down the line should these crew members be delayed. (Deadheading employees are not traveling on standby. This is company-assigned flying and is very different from crewmembers who are “commuting” on their own time. See chapter four of my book for more details). That’s no excuse for what happened, and in some ways it only makes things worse, by showing off some sloppy planning, but it deserves an explanation.

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251 Responses to “Passenger Forcibly Removed From United Express Flight”
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  1. Robert says:

    I had the opposite situation occur, with one big difference: I was a D3 passenger, meaning I was a friend of an employee flying on a non revenue pass. I arrived at the airport listed in business class. After all the revenue passengers had boarded, I was given a ticket to board in coach, as there were no business class seats available.
    It was also a window seat. I informed the supervisor I’d rather wait 2 days when business class was more open on the same flight. He said I HAD to get on the flight and take the seat given to me. I told him I was clasutrophobic and couldn’t sit at the window. He basically said, tough shit. Get on the plane or lose your flying privleges. Not wanting to jeopardize my friend’s job, I reluctantly boarded, terrified to be sitting at a window seat for the 8 hour plus international flight. The entire interaction took 3-5 minutes. The plane was delayed anyway.
    Sure enough a week later my employee friend was called in after the supervisor filed a report against me. My flying priveleges were terminated forever, it seems. Fortunately my friend who feared losing his job did not.
    In the end, before I even sat in my seat, I was able to switch with another passenger for an aisle seat, something that had the supervisor mentioned to begin with would have made the process smoother.
    I was not aware of the rule that on an international flight as a non revenue passenger once I checked a bag I had to get on the flight. This will cost me thousands of dollars.

  2. Chuck S says:

    An “Overbooked” situation (with United) happened at San Francisco airport on the day before Christmas Eve. The captain simply refused to leave the gate until someone volunteered.
    After about 20 minutes the captain came over the intercom and stated that a number of passengers had just missed their connecting flights and the sooner they left the plane, the quicker they would be able to find continuing travel to their destination. It makes sense when you think about it, and I have to believe someone at United had already planned it that way.

  3. Speed says:

    A Disturbing In-Flight Experience

    The number of such incidents is small compared to the number of people carried every day but dealing with an unruly person inside an aluminum tube at FL390 is a hard problem. Should we make an unscheduled landing in Billings, Montana or continue on?

  4. Art Knight says:

    This is another example of corporations ruining society. I personally know a United airlines pilot, he is a family member. My neighbor is a retired United airlines mechanic. One of my best clients is a long-haul flight attendant. I clean her carpets. The people who work for these places are good.

  5. Art Knight says:

    No. 1: His attorney is a total bulldog or United has recognized that they need to bury this quickly. I had my foot crushed at FEDEX GROUND and it took 2 and a half years for me to get $2,901.00 With no medical attention at all. Demetrio also praised Munoz for the prompt settlement.

    No. 2: I am a Quality Assurance guy. I write the Standard Operating Procedures that are designed to keep us in compliance with customer and regulatory requirements. This disregard for simply following the rules is non-stop at every company I have ever worked for. This six-figure income guy doesn’t even know them. Although I guarantee there is a document where he signed off on being trained. Say what you do, do what you say and prove it. Simple right?

    O’Hare Airport security chief Jeffrey Redding was fired Thursday from his $118,020-a-year job. At a City Council hearing on the United fiasco, under questioning by Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) about the “general orders” that apply to aviation security officers, Redding said there were none, only “standard operating procedures.” Burke then asked for the “standard operating procedure” that applies to use of force.“I’ll have to get back to you on that,” Redding said.Burke was incensed. “So you’re the deputy commissioner and you’re in charge of safety and security for Chicago’s airports. . . . And you’re not aware of whether or whether or not there is a use of force order that is distributed to your officers?” Burke said.

    • John B. says:

      Yeah, United wants to bury this as quickly as possible. As does the City of Chicago, who are grateful as hell towards United, headquartered in Chicago after massive tax incentives, for taking the hit for their employees behaving badly. I’m guessing that the Chicago Department of Aviation cops have been named in a separate lawsuit, but now that United paid out however much, the City and the CDA can take up some years in court and also settle for some unspecified amount when no one is paying attention again, and United’s recent sale prices have long returned to normal.

  6. Julian Wan says:

    Hi, this morning on NPR, the CEO of United, Mr. Munoz, was interviewed. He was outlining the 10 point plan of United in response to what had happened. One point caught my attention. He quoted a figure that only 1 in every 23,000 passenger ended up being bumped due to an overbook each year.

    One can look at this stat as meaning any particular passenger’s risk of being bumped is low, but I wonder to what advantage is it to the airlines to do this. Yes, only 1 in every 23,000 gets bumped but how much do the airlines benefit if at all in having that one seat in 23,000 is certain to be filled as opposed to being empty?

    Is it really financially worth doing? I understand the airline business is very competitive but why? There is all the hassle of rescheduling and rebooking – all of that must also cost time and effort from personnel. So in the end why do they do this? Is it some old legacy thing that needs revision?

  7. Robert J Zeigler says:

    It’s nice to hear an opinion from an in-the-cockpit pilot about this fiasco.

    I hope The Cranky Flier reads and heeds this.

    • Robert says:

      A footnote: Problems with crew op scheduling are unfortunate, but do not justify penalizing a paying and assigned seat passenger.

      These issues are on the airlines, and should never affect the passenger.

      • Art Knight says:

        @Robert who said

        “These issues are on the airlines, and should never affect the passenger.”

        Truer words have not been spoken. If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen. I lost thousands of dollars when United “went bankrupt.” I loved them and lived here and flew on them and just knew they were an ensconced corporation here in Chicagoland. I knew I could safely buy their stock. I wasn’t looking to get rich, just do better than Savings & Loans were giving, 3%. Well, they claimed bankruptcy and my shares went down to a freaking penny. All of the executives are still living in gated communities and driving Teslas or BMW’s. I lost every dollar I invested.

        When I was working for Super Target an elderly woman complained that the shopping carts had trash in them. The L.O.D. leader on duty told her “We have 500 carts!” Like she gived a damn about how many carts we have!

  8. Avan says:

    How disturbing and horrifying it is to watch what happened. How can anyone be treated in this disgraceful and inhuman way? There must have been some way to have handled it instead of the blood and hurt that occurred. Aside from the legal implications and who is right and what is right, this is simply disgraceful and air journey which was once an exciting way to travel has now turned into one of dreadful fear. This is the stuff of nightmares and the scars left on the person/s concerned and those who have witnessed it will take a long time to heal but can never be forgotten. Even reading about it has made me scared and fearful of entering a plane.

  9. Rod says:

    Now this:

    Having watched the United drama unfold, American wisely prostrated itself immediately. In the video you see a passenger and an employee having an unedifying snark-off. Other than that a weeping woman holding a baby and toting a backpack fit for an expedition up the Amazon.
    You don’t see what had happened just before. Presumably the pram had been indelicately confiscated.

    So the passenger-video dam is bursting. Cheap plane ticket are clashing with reality.
    I wonder how correctly all these much-maligned employees are paid.

  10. Tim says:

    This is a welcome perspective. There are a lot of discussions about who is in the right or wrong, but this was at the end of the day a business disaster for United. No matter who is right and who is wrong, United Airlines’ business interests are their own responsibility.

    Based on your knowledge of the industry I accept that UA employees aren’t empowered. A little wiggle room may have made a huge difference. But, I see this as a mere extension of failed policy with regards to passenger priority. I get why deadheading flight crew are high priority. But what happens if gate staff don’t know about them until the plane is boarded? (a logistics failure of its own) Did nobody writing these policies ever ask what would happen if a passenger refused to leave? The only possible outcomes are dangling bigger carrots or dragging them off. Surely any such disturbance will get recorded and posted online in this day and age. Why wouldn’t the compensation offered just keep rising? Did they think about other arrangements that could be made?

    Literally ANYTHING would have been cheaper than losing a billion dollars in market cap. Shuffle crews in other cities, buy them or the customers tickets with another airline, charter a private jet to take them, rent one of those giant Hummer limos and a driver so they can sleep in the back on the trip. Let them keep it.

    I think a general attitude toward passengers colored their decision making and policy. “They’ll just have to comply.” Shrug…

    • Rod says:

      Seems to me this could have happened just as easily with any US airline (the worst part of “this” being such brutal cops).
      So no doubt all other US airlines have being heaving a sigh of relief that it wasn’t them and busily reviewing their own procedures.
      Doesn’t Southwest boast of having Empowered Employees? I wonder if it’s true.

  11. georgia applebee says:

    The public outrage might have been somewhat less had the head of United explained that this was a commuter flight without a regular United flight crew. Why did we have to wait for this explanation from a pilot?

    • John B says:

      Although it would look terrible for a mainline airline such as UAL to shift blame to their regional “partners,” whom they already treat terribly, you do bring up a good point. I have no idea of the specifics of their contract agreements, but since United themselves just paid out an undisclosed amount, this may be a case of Republic really sticking it to their overlords. The overarching theme is that, be it during weather or mechanical delays, or maybe weeks after a PR disaster, airlines are incredibly terrible at communicating how they function on every level.

  12. Pessimistic Commenter says:

    I can not wrap my head around the allegations actually against United Airlines. What happened was: 1, A flight was overbooked and no passengers volunteered to pushback. 2, UA’s selection system chose a man claiming to be a doctor, despite having no current doctor’s license and only practicing one day of the week. 3, UA asks the man to leave the plane in compliance with their code. 4, The man refuses to exit. 5, UA calls police to remove the man from the plane, he pitches a fit, and the internet morphs into a pit full of spikes because companies are companies, echoing their reaction to United Airline’s having a dress code.

    • Yomero says:

      It all comes down to United breaking their contract of carriage first.

      1) The flight wasn’t overbooked as ppl and media keep parroting. Seats were for deadheading crew.
      2) His license was stripped but returned to limited basis in 2015
      3) According to media they asked for volunteers at $400, then $800. There were no takers and they move on with the boarding process. That’s when they proceeded to select boarded ppl for involuntary denial of carriage, which is whey they broke their CoC, Why?
      -Rule 21 covers denial of boarding. That means they’d deny the boarding, but that doesn’t apply here because the passengers were already past that when they were already boarded!
      -Rule 25 denial of carriage, have a dozen of reasons but none about overbooking or giving up seats for crew/staff. In legal terms, if they list reasons and overbooking and seats for crew aren’t included then they aren’t part of rule 25.
      So according to some legal sites and people in the DoT they were asking for an unlawful denial of carriage for reasons not covered in either Rule 21 and Rule 25. Only questionable reason to apply Rule 25 would be the unruly passenger part for Dao. But from other videos showing more of the exchange, unknowingly Dr. Dao was standing up for his rights and refusing to obey an unlawful order in the first place. To lawyers based on rule 21 & 25, it’s like a crew as asking Dr. Dao to strip naked in the middle of the aile or risk be thrown out of the plane.

  13. Eric says:

    Post 9/11 passengers are treated as the “enemy” and as “potential terrorists” as soon as they enter the airport. Certainly TSA regards them as such and everyone in the airport is warned about strangers and unattended bags, etc., checked by bomb-sniffing dogs, searched, x-rayed, etc. This has infected the way crew view the passengers. They are considered as possible terrorists – –All of them. I think this is very important in causing the result on flight 3411.

    • Rod says:

      Certainly they don’t put up with any “air-rage” or other tomfoolery anymore, and are quick to call the cops — or at least threaten to. And that’s usually a good thing.
      If this guy had been carried off the plane unhurt, handed a thousand bucks for his trouble, then the ground staff had gone to work to find him the fastest possible way to get him Louisville, this would not have been a story.

    • Las Vegas Tom says:

      This is true. If you don’t absolutely comply its you being a terrorist. Many of the airline rules now have nothing to do with “security” and everything to do with airlines slicing and dicing to get every penny of revenue they can squeeze out of you. The airlines can bump you but if you change anything they charge the hell out of you with fees. Remember you pay for your tickets many times weeks or months ahead and the airlines use your money. Where I am Vegas casinos charge “resort” fees and now parking fees on the Strip. These are both symptoms of the macro problem with many American businesses, airlines and casinos just two, is the product doesn’t matter, the price doesn’t matter, service doesn’t matter, just squeeze the customer for her dollars and too damn bad.

  14. Dear Patrick,

    How I wish you could have written an Op-Ed in both the NYT and The Washington Post, etc. to so comprehensively explain what actually happened in this incident. Perhaps, there would not be as much furor as has come from the totally inadequate, factual reporting required on such an emotional topic. Such massive inadequacy fueling this very emotional and hot-button issue response.

    Your superb explanation completely calmed me down and factually explained to me what happened and why. I can live with that. It’s the sensationalized chaos and drama which drives me to distraction!

    Thank you SO much for your desperately needed service to the flying public!!!

    Bless you, always,

    Victoria Dickinson

  15. Parker West says:

    It’s beyond nauseating to read the newspaper stories as well as watching the interviews with people connected to the offender.
    UA tried to find a volunteer offering up to a $1000 voucher, no one agreed to give up their seat I have no idea if the man was picked out because he boarded last, made the last reservation, or checked in last I do know it had nothing to do with his skin color or nationality. He was politely asked to leave, he refused request after request. He was then ordered to leave, he refused. What else could UA do? And now the SOB claimshe’s a victim. UA will rollover and kiss his tush, paying him $2-20 million to avoid a trial.
    Where is it OK to ignore a command made by a flight crew member?
    American, Delta, as well as United had flights to Louisville from ORD, Delta and Southwest had dozens of direct and connecting flights out of Midway. I don’t quite understand why UA was asking for a volunteer to fly out the next day. Can all flights afterwards all be booked?

    • Rod says:

      Yes, the “SOB” “claims” he was a victim. We’ll see what the courts have to say.

      “Where is it OK to ignore a command made by a flight crew member?”
      I’m confused. You just called it a “polite request”. So which is it?

      You also seem to have your facts wrong about the amount offered. Everything I’ve seen says $800 max.
      At say 2,000 somebody would have gone. Whereas this could end up costing the silly buggers a thousand times as much financially. Plus the PR disaster.

      UA was stupid, though probably no more than any other US airline. (Though Southwest keeps beating its chest about its Special Culture. Maybe it has one.)

      Have to get someone to volunteer to leave a flight? Hold an auction.

      • CWP says:

        I don’t know about any “special culture” at Southwest, but the numbers show that, in proportion to the number of flights, Southwest has less than one-quarter the complaint rate that United does.

    • Stephen Stapleton says:

      Where is it OK to ignore a command made by a flight crew member?

      When the order is illegal or violates the Contract of Carriage. One must obey the lawful orders of the flight crew. Crew members could not, for example, order you to the bath, require you to disrobe, and have sex with them. A crew member cannot order you to exit the plane in mid-flight. The circumstances under which a crew member can order someone to de-plane is covered under Rule 21 of the Contract of Carriage. Go read it.

      All flights can be overbooked. Many likely are. This was not a situation of overbooking and, more importantly, overbooking should be dealt with prior to boarding. See Rule 25 of the Contract of Carriage.

      I doubt the doctor removed from the plane will get as much as $100,000. He simply doesn’t have much in the way of compensatory or actual damages. Punitive damages can really only be three times other damages, so I don’t see how one gets to $100,000, let alone $2 to 20 million. United won’t settle to be nice, they will settle because that is cheaper than paying for unnecessary litigation. There are few facts in dispute here, so the only real question is the application of law. The judge will rule on the motions prior to trial, so both parties will have a good idea where this is going. They will settle, as almost all cases do.

      • Eric says:

        No damages? He suffered a severe concussion, lost two front teeth, had a broken nose and requires reconstructive surgery.

        • Stephen Stapleton says:

          “He suffered a severe concussion, lost two front teeth, had a broken nose and requires reconstructive surgery.”

          United didn’t cause those. The Chicago Department of Aviation police did. The police aren’t agents of United. They are also likely covered by immunity of an official acting in his official capacity or, more likely, the CDA isn’t responsible because the officers acted outside their employment. The officers are likely judgment proof. Breach of contract claims don’t typically permit pain and suffering.

          United eventually even flew him on that flight to his destination. I think I can see some defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and a few others, but nothing that would really bring any multi-million damage awards.

          The sad thing is we will likely never know as the case will settle with a confidentiality agreement keeping everything confidential.

          • CWP says:

            United set the events in motion. They’ll pay, alright, but I doubt we’ll ever know how much.

      • Yomero says:

        And the thing is that lawyers and a few people in the aviation industry had given their opinions, initially United was citing the wrong Rule 25 to their actions at first, in that case the compensation and denial of boarding, since the passenger had already boarded.

        Now as for Rule 21 “Refusal to Transport” that doesn’t apply in this case either. That rule’s reason for refusal doesn’t cover or include overbooking or need to accommodate crew members since that’s covered by Rule 21 and other sections of the contract. As for the only one that would potentially apply, the unruly part, new video evidence show that’s even questionable at best.

        So pretty much one would argue that United was the one breaching the contract first and knowingly or not, he was refusing to obey an order that wasn’t legal in this situation in the first place.

    • Gaylord says:

      It is my understanding that this is UA’s only flight that day and that they were replacing the deplaned passengers with an employ that had not purchased a ticket. They should not have removed a paying passenger to allow a non paying passenger to have their seat. They should have raised the value of the reward until they had enough volunteers.

    • J. Tripper says:

      > What else could UA do?

      Uhh… offer to buy back a seat for $10,000 like Delta is doing?

      Was that really not obvious here? I think you are pretending to be stupid because you need an excuse to shift the blame away from United’s incompetent management.

      > And now the SOB claims he’s a victim.

      He embarrassed a criminal enterprise which you invested in, so he must be discredited because it hurts your profits and reputation. The guy was technically being robbed, and he chose to passively resist. You hate him because his resistance has made your policy of robbing & defrauding passengers the subject of a national debate.

      > UA will rollover and kiss his tush, paying him $2-20 million to avoid a trial.

      A lot of people think it should be 20 BILLION – or whatever it takes to end this despicable “bumping” policy forever.

      > Where is it OK to ignore a command made by a flight crew member?

      The right to resist an unlawful arrest has been part of Anglo-American legal tradition since the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. Bottom line is, the command must be lawful and reasonable – not just the whim of a frustrated bully who wants to penalize someone else for their mistakes. You must obey orders from the crew while the plane is in motion, that’s settled. But passively resisting a robbery or kidnapping in a parked vehicle is lawful and justifiable, even if the robbers are government employees with a badge.

  16. Tom says:

    It was David Dao’s choice to be dragged down the aisle. He could have walked, but refused to cooperate with the police.

    • Rod says:

      Yes, that’s right: he decided that if they wanted him off a flight for which he had paid, had been allowed to board, and needed to take — they would have to drag him.
      Also, you don’t get two teeth knocked out, a fractured nose and a concussion from being dragged. (Try it some time.)
      What you’re saying is that if we all just allowed ourselves to be bullied through life, everything would be fine and dandy.

      Well sorry, but every once in a while somebody draws a line and says this far but no further.

      • josco says:

        Now that it’s a lawsuit, it’s officially impossible for those of us who think more critically than the 98% of people who apparently trust MSM and social media to ask/find answers to questions.

        The lawyer and the daughter sound like all ambulance chasers everywhere. I don’t trust anything that they’ve said. It’s a bad joke except that the public is gullible–that’s scary

  17. Tom says:

    I think where the law enforcement screwed up was in not treating this a little more seriously from the outset. I realize that allowing a passenger to board prior to bumping him is bad customer service.
    They should’ve approached calmly while he was defiant about not getting off and informed him about which federal regulations he was violating. If he persisted, he should’ve been handcuffed and read his Miranda rights prior to being carried off. Instead, they treated a guy who was nearly 70yrs old like a teenager at a sit in. Without sufficient people to carry him, he was going to get hurt. Handcuffs convey more authority than dragging.

    • CWP says:

      Problem is this: He didn’t violate any laws, regulations, or contracts. United did that.

    • josco says:

      The security calmly told him what would happen.
      Then he shrieked like a banshee.
      Sorry, but that didn’t coincide with “I’m a doctor! Need to see patients!”
      Sure enough, something very odd about his medical practice. He is allowed to see patients in a clinic with supervision once a week. He did not *need* to see *his* patients

      I care less about his specific situation than about the credulousness of the public
      But I loathe rewarding litigious scumbags. He seems to fit the “scumbag” profile, as do his daughter and lawyer. Looking like this was setup for lawsuit.

    • Las Vegas Tom says:

      That is part if the whole problem. Since 9-11, airlines have used “security” to cover lots and lots of corporate ineptitude and greed. And this whole nonsense only guarantees more corporate profits not actual “security”. The reaction of passengers to being required to constantly be treated like sheep is really why the reaction is so large nationally. Too many airline employees are acting like little dictators, sit down, shut up and take whatever we give you, no questions asked.

  18. Simon Carter says:

    You write ” … airline culture and training is often such that thinking creatively, and the devising of proverbial outside-the-box solutions, is almost actively discouraged”, but I wonder if incidents such as this have more to do with the wider US culture. I find it hard to imagine something like this happening on, say, an Asian carrier.

    • Yomero says:

      Actually I think it’s the opposite about some Asian cultures. China, South Korea and Japan corporate mentality is very narrow minded, everyone is a cog in the machine and needs to fit, follow the rules. Also seniority is a big part of their culture and a problem that has led many major aviation accidents in the previous decades. But on the other hand in Japan they take customer service seriously so it’s hard to say when both things crash.

      And on the funny side, knowing how unruly Chinese travelers are, I’d bet if something like this happened in China. There would be a big brawl on the plane with more passengers joining in ending up with a riot in the Airport terminal.

  19. RobC says:

    You write an “article” and claim no malice yet defend the perpetrators or excuse them based on procedures. We are all responsible for OUR behaviour. If our employers orders us to do something illegal and we follow though we should be held accountable. You should also hold the various actors including United Agents accountable for this debacle, no just Republic or ” Rent a Cop”. Your opinion shows your true prejudice. Your attempt at “explaining” does not reflect well on you.

    • Rod says:

      Patrick isn’t defending. He’s Explaining.
      Their limit was 800 and they respected that limit. Nor did they do anything “illegal”.

      Patrick complains of a “a lack of Empowerment”. Treat your employees like adults and professionals and enable them to resolve a difficult situation according to their own good judgement.
      They will appreciate your trust and seldom let you down.

      • Rob C. says:

        You are wrong. Patrick is wrong in defending the culture. We are ALL accountable for our choices. It did not work for the Nazi guards and it does dorks not apply to you. Loser!

  20. Bob says:

    So…, United, its staff, or crew, or pilot – whoever it was, calls to have someone removed off plane, and now Pilot’s Union says “For reasons unknown to us, instead of trained Chicago Police Department officers being dispatched to the scene, Chicago Department of Aviation personnel responded. At this point, without direction and outside the control of United Airlines or the Republic crew, the Chicago Department of Aviation forcibly removed the passenger.”

    Outside the control? Really? Is this some kinda joke? This statement is so full of holes, it’s ridiculous. You call, you are then culpable – turn a blind eye, then say it’s not what was expected is silly and stupid. The reality is none there at United followed protocol, nor did the Pilot step in to oversee all were well aboard his plane.

    Sure, proclaim your innocence, you at United did absolutely “nothing” whatsoever. “United pilots have always been the true leaders of this company” as exemplified by the assault on your own passenger.

  21. Bob says:

    U.S. FAA FAR 91.3 declares “Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command”, the FAA better fully investigate this Pilot error! Culture is rotten at United, even more exemplified by the ‘Infuriated’ United pilots union slams Chicago cops story. Everyone there at United absolves themselves of the violent physical assault that took place, Why? Because the plane was not in flight? Gimme a break, not even the PIC will step up and own to the responsibility. Just locking self in, or hiding in bathroom on this flight is typical. Why is everyone simply blind to owning up to their responsibility. The FAA need to step in and take action on this Pilot and crew.

  22. Jambo says:

    Regardless of how things might have been done differently before that point it is my understanding that when at the a passenger refusing to follow crew member instructions requires the flight crew to hand the matter over to airport security. They do not have any discression at this point, it is mandated by federal law.

    So yes, it should have been handled better beforehand but when the crew tells you to get off the plane you have to get off the plane. I’m sorry this guy got hurt but if I were the defense in a civil suit I’d claim he was injured while resisting a lawful arrest and plaintiffs would have a tough time overcoming that.

    • Neverunited says:

      Ok, I’ll bite. No, you don’t have to blindly follow any crew member instruction. If a crew member orders you to jump out an emergency exit onto the slide, at risk of you breaking a leg, yes, you have to do it. If a crew member hands you a knife and orders you to commit seppuku, no you don’t, that would be an unlawful order. If a crew member demands you hand over all the cash in your wallet because United cares about the bottom line, that would be an unlawful order.

      If a crew member demands you get out of your seat and miss work tomorrow so that a united employee won’t miss work tomorrow on another flight (again because united cares about the bottom line) that is also an unlawful order because they can’t remove seated passengers from the plane for any reason except those detailed in section 21 of the United contract of carriage, which absolutely does not permit United to offload their employee logistics screwups onto random passengers.

    • Rob C. says:

      And you would LOSE.

  23. Bob says:

    Where was the aircraft commander (pilot)during this snafu? Was his head in the sand. Why didn’t he take control of the situation?

    • Tom says:

      Because he couldn’t move the plane with the doc on board and his name not on the manifest according to FAR part 121

    • Alan says:

      According to the passenger’s lawyer at his news conference this morning it was the Republic Airline pilot that called security to have the man removed. I have no knowledge that this is actually the case however as I have not seen that reported elsewhere.

  24. The Dao of Dave: I want my teeth and nose back! says:

    This is why I never fly anymore, unless it is absolutely necessary. Passengers are sick and tired of being abused. Why are the cops spilling blood to protect the rackets of corrupt corporations?! The Equal Protection clause of the 14th amendment requires that laws be uniformly applied. Rich or poor, weak or powerful… it should make no difference. If I sold something I did not have, I would be charged with a crime. Why is fraud illegal for me, but not for Oscar Munoz?

    If the state or federal government had an honest attorney general, Oscar would be going to JAIL — along with those dirty cops who committed extortion, assault and battery. But everyone knows the U.S. is run by corporate crime syndicates, so the offenders will never be punished, of course.

  25. cmurf says:

    The media pretty well sucks at reporting this “shockertainment”. United has a 46 page contract of carriage, but the media won’t help navigate the parts relevant to this event.

    It wasn’t technically overbooked, so United’s rule 25 doesn’t even apply. But let’s pretend it does, there’s no way to argue that people who are on board, seated, and belted are still in the boarding process. There’s nothing in the contract that allows for involuntarily deplaning someone unless they’re in breach of the contract, and that’s all in rule 21. None of the reasons listed there apply to this passenger. The 2nd video shows him talking to law enforcement and he very politely and clearly says he will not comply and will sooner accept arrest. Good for him.

    Literally the only options available to the airline are raising the compensation amount for volunteering to stay behind; or the crew doesn’t go. And that would apply even if there’s a “more important passenger”. That person simply doesn’t get to go.

    United has a history of using threats to get people to comply, and most people submit. That’s why we don’t hear much about this breach of their own contract of carriage. Delta has an extremely low involuntary denied boardings at the gate because they bribe people with an auction system starting at online checkin. So there are alternatives to United’s system (and possibly other airlines).

  26. Tomas says:

    So, are there any clueless people on this thread saying: “I’m boycotting United Airlines?”

    Well, good luck. You could find yourself on the exact same plane and bumped by the same crew members when you think you’re flying American or Delta.


      “Any airline that is so clueless and ill-equipped that its passenger-facing agents inflict this sort of treatment on their customers to get their own staff to work deserves all the rules, fees, fines and public condemnation that can be rained down upon it.”

      (Air Transport World)

  27. Lee says:

    How about that United passenger that came out today and said that last week, United threatened him with handcuffs if he did not get his butt out of his seat because the flight was overbooked. This guy was in First Class and had paid $1,000 for his ticket. This was reported on network evening news, so this is not likely to be fake!!!

  28. Martin says:

    Patrick, thinking way way out of the box, is there anything to prevent an airline from this resolution:
    1. Plane is overbooked, passengers can’t be bought (eg, it’s a sports team flying to a game in 3 hours)
    2. Airline needs their employees at the destination, so they can get a different load of passengers in the air in a few hours.
    3. Airline puts the employees on a *different* airplane, with a destination beyond the target.
    4. Midway through the *other* flight, the pilot comes on and says, “Ladies and Gents, sorry for the inconvenience, but we’re going to have to land briefly in Louisville so that a crew we’re carrying can get a planeload of people to Dallas. We’re awfully sorry, and we’ll be giving you each a voucher for $100 bucks on your next booking, and also we’ve arranged for a cart with free drinks to be loaded onto the plane while we top up the tanks”.

    • cmurf says:

      Expensive. This is a minimum of a 1 hour delay, numerous passengers miss connecting flights, international flights, it’s unworkable to do this by choice. There is a price that will get a few people to volunteer that is less costly than detour and disruption. I bet these figures are in the immediate recall portion of the brain of an airline actuarial. My guess is it’s cheaper to offer $10,000 per seat than to detour and disrupt for the smallest and least expensive flight. Multiple someones will say yes to $10k.

  29. Bert Botta says:

    Well done Patrick.

    I know nothing of the shifting nature of the “facts” of this case but what you presented is stuff that even regular or former airline employees, like me, don’t know.

    Thanks for your attention to detail and clarifications.


  30. Fred says:

    This post is composed of way more fact than most. However I pose a question. Does a flight crew have the ability to exercise ‘creativity’ when a threshold has been reached with a passenger that is not obeying crew member instructions for ANY reason? Would the crew and therefore United not have been neglecting regulatory obligation in not reporting this situation to security/law enforcement. I think your point is partially valid, that maybethis might have been handled better initially, but tell me if it is not completely accurate that this mans actions mandated notification of security, and neither United nor the crewhad any control of the situation thereafter….

  31. Arthur K sfocg says:

    I like your comment it so sad even for me a airline retired nee I did put in 30yrs of service and never see the culture of the airline change so much I do not think the Deadhead crew are fly to SDF to United flight since most of United flight did depart SDF by the time RPA3411 arrv …It the PR nite mare 🙁 who ever send report to CEO …This should be handle by any VPsr : Scot Kirby level and the CEO for review and update the Damage control part …sad day at United and it core 82,000 personnel that work for this great Company (how would they face fly public Noe what a joke ):(

  32. CWP says:

    I don’t care if that passenger is the ghost of Jeffrey Dahmer. He had a ticket; he boarded and occupied his seat in accordance with the rules. United caused him to be beaten up. Oh, I wish I could sit on the civil jury. United would pay, and pay, and pay.

  33. Neverunited says:

    United have moved on from the blaming the victim (it wasn’t working and was likely adding libel and defamation to their liability exposure). You’re not helping them by bringing it up again.

  34. Mike Perry says:

    You’re right, the issue is empowerment and the lack of crushes staff morale. I saw that from the oppoist end when I lived in Seattle and juggled several part-time jobs to support my writing.

    One was at the front-desk of a community center, often handling evening room rentals. If there was an issue with a $35-an-hour classroom, I could shift them, if necessary, into a $150-hour auditorium. I was expected to keep clients happy by being flexible.

    Another was at a pricey public venue. At a $480-per-ticket event, I was told in the strongest of terms not allow anyone but performers to use our underground parking garage. All its spaces were for performers who, to benefit the art museum, were performing free. But when an elderly woman drove in, got out and began to painfully hobble toward the elevator, I told myself, “To heck with what they said. I am not going to force her to park half-a-mile away.” A few minutes later the director of the event came down and thanked me for showing initiative. There’d been a miscommunication. The woman, a musuem donor, had been promised a parking spot in the garage.

    Both jobs were a delight because I was encouraged to show initiative and knew I’d be backed up if I did what it took to keep those I was dealing with happy. That’s clearly not the case with United or United Express. Showing good sense and initiative isn’t rewarded. And the result is all too obvious.

  35. Captain Jack says:

    As a retired UAL Mainline captain, this was an event that was very disturbing to me. My fellow UAL Mainline pilots and flight attendants were and are trained to treat all of our passengers with respect and dignity. Recognizing the stress and anxiety of travel, the crews must be the calming force to resolve any conflict.

    The above article was well said. I also have the highest respect for Oscar Not pointing the finger at Republic Airlines even though they were the operator. This type of an event could be avoided by training and with a focus on dignaty and respect when dealing with customers. To my Mainline UAL friends. Hold your head high, I have seen you in action and I know you make every effort to support UAL customers. After 35 years with UAL I have witnessed thousands of random acts of kindness from UAL employees. This does not erase the scar of this event and appropriate action will be taken l, I am sure.

    • BG Davis says:

      “I also have the highest respect for Oscar Not pointing the finger at Republic Airlines even though they were the operator.”
      Can you clarify this? Why should United take the rap when their personnel were not involved? And why should Republic not be named as the responsible party?

      • Captain Jack says:

        Excellent Question! Oscar has been a breath of fresh air for UAL. A good leader praises in public and criticizes in private. I am certain private discusses were held. It appears Oscar attacks problemss with solutions, not blame. Mistakes were made and the best anyone can do is learn from these mistakes.

      • Tomas says:

        BG Davis

        United actually would prefer to take the rap on this. The last thing they want is for customers saying : “What! What ! you mean I bought a United ticket and you put me on some puddle jumping sub contractor that has pilots on food stamps?”

        They’re required to tell you, in fine print, who’s operating the flight. They aren’t required to make you understand

        • LaMere says:

          The responsibilities of pilots in regional airlines vs. their wage is a problem that has to be solved. Huge corporate profits, and starvation wages for regional pilots?

          Could the low wages and stress of regional employees and a factor?

          “Food stamp pilots?” Not funny

  36. United’s unfriendliness mercilessly mocked by Emirates

    United passenger threatened with handcuffs to make room for ‘higher-priority’ traveler
    “It’s hard to find examples of worse decision-making and customer treatment than United Airlines having a passenger dragged from an overbooked plane. But United’s shabby treatment of Geoff Fearns, including a threat to place him in handcuffs, comes close.”

    ‘We’re United Airlines, you do what we say’: Kimmel skewers the embattled airline – LA Times

  37. Captain Mark says:

    Once a revenue passenger is on the aircraft, the only justification for involuntary removal is for legality compliance. By this I mean reasons such as, a weight and balance limitation, inoperative seat, personal behavior. For any other reasons matters should be resolved in the gate area–never on the aircraft.

    • Tomas says:

      He would be able to make that case once back off the airplane. Neither a plane nor a courtroom are appropriate places for a tantrum. You’ll be shown the door

  38. non-rev parent says:

    Couple of things bug me about this….and I agree with much of “Ask The Pilot”, but it has become public that the four crew members were not scheduled to fly until the following morning. To me this dilutes the “must fly” designation for these four on this flight. There was a Delta flight, an AA flight, and a later Republic/United flight non-stop ORD to SDF later that same day. Why didn’t they split the crew and fly them on separate flights? Why didn’t the Captain or FO take the jump seat on this flight thereby requiring only three cabin seats? (…pretty short flight from ORD to SDF, one of the flight crew should have taken the jumpseat.)

  39. sylvia says:

    This United customer had purchased a legitimate ticket and took his seat. In all other industries you can’t sell the same items twice to different customers. Although all airlines do that all the time.
    United claims that this is in their policies, but even policies have limits, a policy is limited by law, you can’t do anything which is against the law for instance use force and injure someone in this case.
    For the safety and security of all the passengers and customers in general this event should lead to new legislations by laws makers who are here to represent their constituents. For example prevent the sales of airline seats to 2 different people. Airlines will state that this would reduce profit, but the airlines customer service in general is degrading like no other business this by employees bad decisions.

    • Stefan Hoffer says:

      Airlines like to sell the same thing to two passengers. Take for example a reclining seat. By selling it to a passenger the airline implicitly grants the right to the passenger to use the space behind it to recline the seat. But when the passenger behind objects and asserts their right to the space in front of them, the airline either tells the passengers to resolve the issue themselves or not to recline the seat. If anyone becomes too assertive, they are booted as a disruptive passenger. But the airline always keeps the money from both passengers.

    • BG Davis says:

      “a policy is limited by law”
      Yes, that is true. And United’s policy, which is clearly spelled out in the contract that is part of every ticket, is legal. You are conflating various issues here; legality was not the problem.

      • CWP says:

        United’s adhesion contract of csrriage does not give them the right to yank someone out of their seat once they’re on the plane, except in certain specified circumstances — none of which applied here.

        You can shill for United to your heart’s content, but United broke their contract — and they are going to pay dearly for having done so.

  40. Grey-Haired Railroader says:

    United Global Services passenger here. Not sure I am going to fly United again. Wrapping my job, my safety, and my life around an airline’s business model and business practices requires a great deal of trust, and I’m not sure that trust isn’t irrevocably damaged.

    Unfortunately, the public has (with scant exception) all sat around and watched while our brilliant academics, titans of industry, and elected leaders have enthusiastically enabled airlines (and most other industries) to become a federally protected oligopoly. It was only a matter of time before an airline exercised its ability to direct the police to enforce its commercial interests. So switching to Delta, Alaska, whatever, is not likely to accomplish anything. There is no longer a free market enabling us to reward the air carrier that treats us well and punish the one that does not. And federal regulation of customer service – if my nearly 4 decades in railroading is any guide – will be a wretched Orwellian mess of arcane rules and inexplicable outcomes. Breaking airlines apart where they had to compete would work. Fat chance of that, it might make billionaires less powerful.

    • CWP says:

      It was United, not Republic, that called in the goon squad. In any case, Republic flies United’s colors and is specifically bound by United’s contract of carriage. If United isn’t responsible for Republic, then what else will they try to wriggle away from?

    • cmurf says:

      The U.S. is obsessed with free market vs socialism, binary logic, and ensuing confusion. Free markets don’t naturally exist without some regulation, that’s what the country is generally in denial about. Right now it’s very anti-government and anti-regulation, and that includes weakness in competition law. By having such weak anti-trust enforcement we’re permitting mergers that reduce competition, the free market shrinks, and is replaced by oligopoly.

      And now each of those major airlines are too big to fail, aren’t they?

  41. Yomero says:

    Now on social media and certain ‘not-journalistic’ sites circulates the story that Dr. David Dao had committed prior felonies during 2005 giving prescriptions for drugs in exchange for sexual favors. That his medical license had been suspended or limited till 2015.

    So what? Someone’s prior offenses, lifestyle, race or nationality or whatever have nothing to do with the mistakes United made to lead to physically and violently removing a passenger, unless you are listed as a terrorist or on the no flying list.

    I’m no conspiracy nut, but where this originates and the timing just smells like slandering to minimize or brush aside the case this passenger would bring against United

    • Grey-Haired Railroader says:

      The email I sent to the editor of the Louisville Journal-Courier today:

      Dear Mr. Christopher:

      As the practice of journalism to you seems mostly to be a search for false equivalencies, extraneous facts, and some sort of Hammurabian gleaning for a sin in the past life of a victim, so to aid in the execution of your duties, here are some headlines you can use in the future:

      · Raped mother said to have “slept around” in her teens
      · Child murdered by kidnapper was not a good sleeper as infant, mother reports
      · Teenager eaten by wolves picked on classmates in kindergarten
      · Skier killed in fluke ski-lift collapse had bad reviews in last job
      · Man accidentally run over by police cruiser had unpaid parking ticket in Los Angeles

      • CWP says:

        Fortunately, there is video showing that the airline personnel who said that are liars. This is not going to go well for United if it reaches court. Fortunately, the passenger has hired one of Chicago’s top personal injury lawyers. United is going to get itself nailed to the cross over this, and deservedly so.

  42. Barry Gold says:

    Stewart is right. The rules that employees operate under are too restrictive. This could have been resolved in several ways:
    1. Keep upping the ante. At some point, somebody will take the offer. A seat on an airplane is not worth an infinite amount of money. The amount will vary from person to person, but every person has an amount that will make them think, “That’s just too good to turn down.”

    2. Offer cash instead of flight vouchers. Airlines want to offer flight vouchers because a $800 voucher only costs them maybe $100 or $200. But $500 in cash will make most people think, “traveling tomorrow morning instead of tonight isn’t such a bad idea.” Or you could offer them First or Business class tomorrow, if you have any seats available.

    3. Just go charter a plane (a Learjet or equivalent, or even a four-seater prop plane like a Comanche) and get the crew to their destination that way. Probably would have cost less than $3200, and *way* less than what this disaster is going to cost United.

    • Mike Perry says:

      Good advice. One reason for this mess was that United Express staff weren’t aggressive enough with their offers. At some point, four passengers would have said, “That’s enough. I’ll take a later flight.” But that process is fraught with frustration. How would someone who takes a public $600 offer feel if someone else waits and gets $800?

      Airlines should adopt a silent auction. Pass out slips to anyone interested and let them make their lowest bid for taking a later flight. The lowest bidders then get paid in either cash or real tickets good on any flight by any airline. Quite a few people now know that these vouchers being passed out are so restrictive they’re almost worthless. Airliners can no longer fool them.

  43. Bill Way says:

    News outlets are reporting today (wed) that the flight was not overbooked, and that the 4 employees arrived late to the gate for their “stand by” seats.

    • BG Davis says:

      This is not new news. The flight was full. The company wanted to remove 4 passengers to make room for a crew that was needed elsewhere for another flight. There were no empty seats.

      • CWP says:

        That’s right, United wanted to yank 4 people off the flight, in blatant violation of their one-sided contract of carriage. That agreement is so favorable to the airline that you’d think those goons could’ve complied with it. But no, they couldn’t, so now United will pay the price. And it’ll be a damn big one.

    • Patrick says:

      There is NO WAY those employees were flying standby. The more this goes on, the more media is screwing up various aspects of this story, so we maybe shouldn’t expect them to get that part right either.

      • Overbooked Hardly says:

        With all respect, nobody really cares about the technicality of the status of the employees, standby or not, if the airline wanted to fly their own people, they should have had the foresight and timely planning to do so before allowing all the passengers to board. Letting everybody board was a mistake; no amount of legalese will change that. I’m sure a lawyer will argue all kinds of other technicalities such as denying boarding and kicking somebody after being seated are two very different things; so all kinds of jargon and technicality aside, this was a huge mistake, and I don’t mean a PR mistake, I mean an operational mistake. Airlines should realize that they are in “hospitality” business whether they like it or not.

  44. John Henne says:

    Rent-a-cops should be charged with criminal assault, kidnapping and hate crime and individually sued along with the others, Republic, United and the Chicago aviation Authority.

  45. Mark says:

    On the bright side, nobody will dare disobey a command to get off a plane.

  46. Alan N. says:

    Why would anyone want to fly United ever again?? Unless I creatively could NOT find an alternate airline or transportation means, I WOULD NEVER FLY UNITED, EVER. If United or it’s employees, or it’s contracted affiliates can make such a bad decision or poorly planned outcome as to what happened to that 69-year old Doctor, HOW DO I KNOW IF THEY CAN MAKE THE RIGHT DECISIONS REGARDING SAFETY?? Many Airline Industry insiders have pointed out how bad it is to work for United, and how bad the culture is. Well, poor decision making affects SAFETY OF TRAVEL, and the CULTURE OF A COMPANY as big as United is, will take many years to fix, maybe many decades to fix. From my perspective, the culture at United is only getting WORSE, not better. Almost a decade ago, they were scorned for breaking a musician’s guitar ($1200). Now instead of breaking your instrument, they’re breaking your face if you don’t volunteer to leave the plane. And, yes, the Customer Service aspects of this story sound bad, but what about SAFETY?? How do I know, you made the right decisions there? How do I know? With a company culture that is broken, I CAN ONLY ASSUME the WORST.

    • Rod says:

      My guess is that this could Just As Easily have happened to any other airline in the US. (Perhaps United management exacerbated their PR difficulties after the fact. Possible.)

      The Problem is the practice of systematic overbooking, not United.

  47. Speed says:

    A Market for United’s Bookers
    As Julian Simon taught, an auction is the best solution to overbooking.

    It has been written here and elsewhere that if United had continued raising its offer buy occupied seats, the whole mess wouldn’t have happened. Today’s Wall Street Journal sums it up nicely …

    As corporate PR fiascoes go, the United Airlines case of the doctor forcibly dragged off an overbooked flight at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport Sunday is one for the ages. The late-night comics have a new non-Trump target,
    [ … ]
    Today’s flying experience is often miserable, and what beleaguered passengers want is to be treated like customers, not cattle. Whatever an auction system might have cost United to get someone other than Dr. Dao to give up his ticket would be much less than what United will pay to settle lawsuits and repair its public reputation. Markets work better than brute force.

  48. Francis Bwikizo says:

    Totally unacceptable. You’ve said it well Patrick; there’s a better way of doing this than dragging an elderly man off a jet amid bloodshed. As an aviation enthusiast, I feel so embarrassed on behalf of United Airlines given their experience in the business. I can’t believe that of the the 100 passengers on board (unfortunately, everyone is quiet on the aircraft type and capacity), no single individual was ready to surrender just one remaining seat for the rushing crew. It clearly shows there was a problem on situation handling by the airline staff. Also, i am thinking crew members and everyone in operations are sometimes too fixated on airline rules and regulations to even think of the easiest, harmless solutions.Based on the story above, it simply required a few hundred dollars to save the million dollars in dropped falling stock value and tainted public image. I look at pilots & all crew members as smart in mind as the the way they dress. By failing to persuade just one passenger of an overbooked flight really baffles my mind. What then would they have done to persuade a terrorist who is itching to detonate a bomb? I hope United have taken their lessons and next time they’ll act better. And for the passenger, I hope he gets better soon and he gets well compensated by the carrier.

  49. DRY says:

    It seems like it was poor planning on Republic’s part. Why was the plane boarded and then the crew showed up stating they needed to get on the flight? I can understand if the crew just flew in from somewhere else, but even so, shouldn’t someone associated with Republic notify the gate that 4 seats were needed prior to beginning of boarding?

    • Zilla says:

      The whole thing smells of lack of planning/foresight by United. The four crew members obviously knew well in advance they were to be flown to Louisville. Why didn’t the person responsible for that contact the United staff at Chicago and tell them well in advance? They should have known these people were coming and made arrangements for them well before boarding. Sheer stupidity on United’s part.

  50. Seth says:

    I love your work, but you are being too generous. Had the employees shown up at the gate on time—as all the paying passengers did—they could have been boarded while seats were still available.

    But yeah, United Express probably had a policy that made $800 the highest amount the gate staff could offer. So dumb. Obviously everyone has a price. And obviously a few hundred more would have saved United millions in bad publicity.

    Did United have a hand in spreading bad publicity about the passenger?

  51. CWP says:

    With respect to United vs. United Express, I point to this excerpt from “Rule 18 Service Provided by United Express and Other Codeshare Partners” of United’s contract of carriage:

    “For Codeshare services on flights operated by another carrier, UA is responsible for the entirety of the Codeshare journey for all obligations to Passengers established in these rules. The rules contained herein with respect to ticketing will apply to UA Codeshare services on flights operated by partner airlines.”

    No, I don’t think United will be able to hide behind an “it wasn’t us” ruse.

  52. Speed says:

    There has been speculation that the removed passenger was targeted because he was/is Chinese …

    Dao, who went to medical school in Vietnam in the 1970s before moving to the U.S., has worked as a pulmonologist in Elizabethtown but was arrested in 2003 and eventually convicted of drug-related offenses after an undercover investigation, according to the documents filed with the state board of medical licensure.

    Caution! The link autoplays the removal video with the sound on.

    • CWP says:

      It appears as if someone(s) at United leaked not only the details of the doctor’s rather sordid past to the media, but also unpublished internal documentation of his and his wife’s reservations and tickets.

      If United actually thinks they can wriggle off the hook by smearing the passenger, those morons had better think again. Look, they were happy to take the man’s money, and were happy to break their own one-sided contract of carriage, and were happy to send a goon squad onto that plane to assault him.

      I don’t care what the passenger’s past is. It’s wholly unrelated to what happened on that plane. In my view, United is corporate scum. God almighty, I hope they suffer in a major way for all of this.

      • JDW says:

        I’m guessing it was the work of the local Louisville media on its own. If United had the “dirt” on this passenger, the logical path of action would have been to offer him a settlement on your terms, while mentioning that, if he were to reject it and sue, the whole thing would turn into a media circus and who knows what the media might come up with in its coverage…and see if fear of having his past revealed might make him more willing to deal with it quietly. Now, though, with everything already public knowledge, that impetus to avoid a trial is utterly gone; even if he were to settle, the damage to his reputation can’t be undone.

    • OL says:

      If that’s the case let’s deny a flight ticket to anyone that has tried marijuana in their lives. Just to be fair. And what is that? 20% of Americans? 50%? or 70%?
      A drug is a drug but some people think they are righteous enough to be the judge… Just my two cents…

  53. S.C. says:

    I agree with the article regarding decision making. I work in the aviation field and see this everyday. You are told to make decisions that are customer focus, however, you are reprimanded if you do. Left hand right hand syndrome I call it.

    While I understand that it was a regional arm of United operated by a contracted airline, the issue is that the name “United” is still attached to it, and this is where the general public will still tarnish United for. It is still United’s responsibility to ensure that people are treated with respect and not man-handled in such a way that causes injury.

    That aside, great article, and very very accurate.

  54. Overbooked Hardly says:

    Why does everybody keep calling this an “overbooked” flight? Technically, it is an overbooked flight if there are more paying customers than seats. You can’t call this flight overbooked if everybody already were issued boarding passes and they sat down in their seats. Calling this disaster a matter of “overbooked” flight gives United’s actions undeserved legitimacy.

    They couldn’t fly their own crew in time by some other means, and they decided to do that at paying customers’ expense at the last minute. Poor planning, poor execution, poor leadership. Overbooked flight? Hardly.

    • Neverunited says:

      That’s correct, it was a full, boarding-complete flight that United corporate decided to use to transport 4 employees needed for a different flight. There is no way one can claim boarding those 4 employees was needed for the operation of the flight Dao was removed from.

      One of the good things that could emerge from this fiasco is a re-examination of the airlines’ claimed right to de-board passengers in favor of shuttling employees. “We’ve always done that” isn’t sufficient justification, and now United has millions in liability which will motivate some good attorneys. United will likely settle just to avoid losing the dubiously legal practice of removing seated passengers for United’s convenience. They’ll also be under a lot of pressure from other airlines to settle, to avoid a no-remove precedent being set.

  55. Jeff Reid says:

    Why don’t the legacy carriers own and operate their own regional airlines, especially since the carriers branding is on the regional aircraft?

  56. Rod says:

    Does this item set a record for reader-response?

    I think we’ve all been affected at some point by overbooking. Seems to me that the practice should be banned pure and simple. Attractive stand-by rates could be offered to get at least some revenue for no-shows. And yes, fares might (shudder!) rise a bit as a result.

    United says the guy was “belligerent”. I’d be freaking belligerent in his shoes too. I can well understand him saying “If you want me off this aircraft, you’ll have to use force.” Passive resistance. Isn’t that what we admired Rosa Parks for — saying sorry, I’m simply not taking such outrageous crap.

    If the US airline industry can’t operate without incidents like this, then something’s far wrong.

    • Speed says:

      Rod wrote, “Seems to me that the practice [of overbooking] should be banned pure and simple.”

      Just as soon as the practice of making a reservation and failing to show up is banned pure and simple.

      • windowsill says:

        Why? The airline still has your money, even if you don’t show up

        • Ben says:

          Simple: profit maximization.

          Why settle for one fare when you can double dip on some algorithmically-determined fraction of your seats?

      • Jean says:

        Really? Is there any other business model that treats its customers so poorly?
        If I am late for a flight, the airline resells my ticket without recompensing me. I cannot make a change, even months in advance, without significant penalty. But the airline can throw me off a flight with impunity.
        I’m deeply puzzled how anyone but a flack for the airline industry could defend this indefensible policy, especially with the ridiculous argument that you proffer. Utter poppycock, you corporate hack.

  57. Ken Pritchard says:

    There was a good column in the Guardian about this incident, although long on opinion and maybe short on facts, that puts the blame with a culture of fear that seems more prevalent than ever in the U.S. The airline industry exacerbates this fear the moment one steps out at the airport, militarized police presence followed by being herded though TSA like cattle going through a chute follwed by the faked civility of exasperated gate attendants and flight attendants. Some people would call it bad vibes amplifying bad vibes. Human dignity,let alone compassion, is being stripped from all the actors at each step of this interaction between airlines, law enforcement and the flying public. No wonder good stories about flying appear so heroic or so touching relative to our common flying experience. But the first place to start is to lessen fear of flying, not just the phobia of flying but the palpable climate of fear when traveling by air. This said, has anyone looked at how much less profit airlines would make if they lowered the number of fully loaded flights by let’s say 5 to 10%?

    • John A Weiss says:

      Wow, so i’m not the only person who finds flying to be an incredibly hostile experience, every time? (that includes the passengers)

  58. CWP says:

    I was a frequent flyer for 12 years, from 1990 through 2012. I saw it all, including the sharp deterioration of service standards after the mid-1990s.

    I came to detest the flying experience to the point that, even though I have hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles, I will drive a couple thousand miles to a destination rather than get on board a domestic flight and be treated like an animal from start to finish.

    This article doesn’t surprise me in the least, but it did manage to re-ignite all the feelings I have about the airlines. Stupidity and brutality tend to go together, and this case is a prime example. United could’ve offered another $500 under its carriage contract, but chose to commence the beating to save $500.

    Not only that, but as someone else has pointed out, there’s a Southwest flight from Midway to Louisville, and United could’ve booked its crew on that one for $250 per ticket, or less. And because the passenger was Chinese, United might wind up losing landing slots in that country over this.

    My reaction: It’s about time. I hope United Airlines winds up losing many millions of dollars over this. I hope the passenger wins the mother of all lawsuits; that China yanks landing rights; that “Star Alliance” partners shift; and that enough corporate business shifts elsewhere to hurt.

    United Airlines, you deserve every bad outcome for this, and more. You finally went too far. Now reap what you have sown.

    • Yomero says:

      The pasenger according to some media is vietnamese-american.

      • CWP says:

        In the video, he complains about being profiled for being Chinese. Maybe he’s ethnic Chinese with a Vietnamese background? Vietnam’s demographics are mainly Vietnamese, but 15% of the population is non-Vietnamese, including some ethnic Chinese.

      • Mike Spleen says:

        United doesn’t care about distinctions, other than that he has yellow skin

    • Speed says:

      CSP wrote, “United could’ve booked its crew on that [Southwest flight] for $250 per ticket … ”

      Were there any seats available?

    • David C says:

      I’ve long felt that United has to be one of the worst air carriers possible, even when compared to other mediocre u.s. carriers. I’ve only stayed with them because of their association with the star alliance. Star Alliance

    • David C says:

      I’ve long felt that United has to be one of the worst air carriers possible, even when compared to other mediocre u.s. carriers. I’ve only stayed with them because of their association with the star alliance. Star Alliance should ban United (if that’s the right word), because United’s treatment of passengers hasn’t been consistent with the values of other carriers in that network for some time. Air carriers need to see an example of an airline going out of business for unacceptable passenger treatment.

  59. Patricia says:

    It really doesn’t matter WHO the actual flight operator was. It has been apologized for, ineffectively, by United’s CEO therefore any and all anger is being appropriately aimed at United. That the CEO is SO out of touch with how important satisfied customers are to his bottom line is shocking.

    • CWP says:

      That was a classic non-apology apology. I hope, for my sake and the CEO’s sake, that I never meet him in person.

  60. Art Knight says:

    Have hanging straps gone the way of the dodo?

  61. Dustin says:

    In the same position I would also refuse to leave, no matter the compensation offer. Because I have given up seats on United before. My son calls it “the deal with the devil” because everytime we’ve given up our seats for vouchers we have been lied about the follow up. Once, we were stranded on Nantucket and told “all hotel rooms were full, sorry the airport is now closing” after voluntarily giving up our seats with a promise of the next flight.

    I think we paid for flights to the East Coast with United once, had them screw up enough that the next 2-3 flights were voucher based and then we let the remaining vouchers expire- because we didn’t want to put up with anymore of the nonsense.

  62. DH says:

    If the issue of deadheading is as pervasive as it has been for several decades, with flight crews timing out, etc., why has the airline industry not, in all this time, come up with an alternative to disastrous customer dissatisfaction? Whether its a charter specific for those purposes that operates out of primary hubs to route flight crews where they need to be, or sourcing from somewhere closer? I understand the stresses they are under, but the world and the consumers in it has changed, but in sixty years, nothing has really changed with the industry. They carry an enormous degree of arrogance as the only game in town, but that may not always be the case as consumers as reviewing actions like this instance, the leggings incident, and HAL’s blanket debacle. I’ve been flying for 58 years, and I seldom board a plane that isn’t packed these days. This issue of overbookings needs to adapt for a newer reality/newer customer expectation. I flew non-rev for 16 of those years, so I know the challenges in being bumped, even if it was a frequent and expected occurrence, and that was okay — it was the expected trade-off. But revenue-based consumers buy that flight, not A flight, and yet the airlines haven’t chosen to catch up with what the rest of us understand to be a key distinctive difference in product quality and delivery.

  63. Dale A. Smith says:

    I agree with all that you have said, however, critical thinking tasks seem to have gone by the wayside in a sheeple, dogmatic society. The deadheading crew had many options, of which being driven to their destination would have taken 8 hours and if they are not driving, it is crew rest. They could have taken another airline, used the corporate executive aircraft, or in the future, better planned their repositioning through the manpower scheduling office. The $800 offer should be a guideline, but if one has to go to $2,000 to get someone to move, so be it. It is still less expensive than the law suit, negative PR, and operating the corporate Citation at $700/hr. Based on the fact that this aircraft delay did not involve weather, ATC, maintenance or current aircraft crew staffing, I put the oneness on the scheduling office and the gate agents. No one should have ever been allowed to board the aircraft until this situation had been resolved.

    • Art Thomas says:

      Your last sentence says it all. Boarding had already taken place before the order for bumping was announced. In accordance with the contract of carriage, the agreement that airlines makes with the passengers, the airlines can deny boarding involuntarily. There is nothing in United’s c of c says that the airlines can involuntarily bump after boarding.

      • Ben says:

        What choice do passengers have but to accede to this “contract.”

        It’s simply disingenuous to frame this as any kind of voluntary agreement.

        • Barry Gold says:

          Of course you have a choice to agree to the contract or not. Nothing says you have to fly. You can drive. You can take a bus. You can take a train.

          In the 70s flying was fun. The seats were comfortable, and most of the time the planes weren’t even full. Security and checkin was a breeze. Long flights on widebodies often included a deli buffet.

          Things have changed. I have reached the point where, for the most part, if I can’t drive there I don’t go. I live in LA; I can drive to any major city in CA, plus Las Vegas, Phoenix, Flaggstaff, Reno (overnight stay in Sacto or Bishop), Most of Utah (overnight stay in Vegas), etc.

          That’s a lot of vacationing I can do without ever boarding a plane. I only fly if I can afford at least Business Class (we flew to Seattle last year, it was only about $250/person for “First Class” that was really Business. Comfortable, early boarding, reasonably good food, and a lot less hassle. And going with TSA Pre-check reduces the security time to under 5 minutes.

          • CWP says:

            It’s a classic adhesion contract, in which one side holds all the bargaining power. As for not flying, that’s in fact what I do. I go very far to avoid getting on airplanes.

            As a former frequent flyer who saw the standards fall off the cliff in the late 1990s, it’s pretty clear to me that there is an incresingly adversarial relationship between the airlines and their prisoners.

            They are running “Milgram experiments” in the sky these days, so I fly only when I truly have no other choice.

    • Leah says:

      Dead heading crew do.not.make the arrangements .Its crew scheduling.
      No the crew could not have driven 8 hours if there was a crew rest issue

  64. Dale A. Smith says:

    I agree with all that you have said, however, critical thinking tasks seem to have gone by the wayside in a sheeple, dogmatic society. The deadheading crew had many options, of which being driven to their destination would have taken 8 hours and if they are not driving, it is crew rest. They could have taken another airline, used the corporate executive aircraft, or in the future, better planned their repositioning through the manpower scheduling office. The $800 offer should be a guideline, but if one has to go to $2,000 to get someone to move, so be it. It is still less expensive than the law suit, negative PR, and operating the corporate Citation at $700/hr. Based on the fact that this aircraft delay did not involve weather, ATC, maintenance or current aircraft crew staffing, I put the oneness on the scheduling office and the gate agents. No one should have ever been allowed to board the aircraft until this situation had been resolved.

    • CJM says:

      Being driven from one airport to another is not considered crew rest–it is duty time, probably not paid, but it all counts towards the maximum duty day. Had the deadheading crew driven to Louisville, they would probably have been illegal to fly the return segment.

      If it was so simple to just drive, why didn’t the passenger make that choice? He was not cooperating with reasonable requests by employees to leave the aircraft. Once that happens, the un-cooperative passenger is considered a threat and even if more seats opened up, he probably would not be allowed on the airplane. And the reference to a corporate plane is laughable; the airlines don’t keep a fleet of corporate jets around to fly flight crews to their assignments.

      • Mark Hodgson says:

        Perhaps because he had paid United for a ticket to take him to Louisville, and a rental car one way would have taken much $ and much time.

        The Airline attitude of do what we say or else is disgusting. Had he done what was asked then none of the PR disaster that United now face would have occurred, and nothing would have changed. The rest of the flying public owe this gentleman a debt of gratitude, until we as customers stand up and say HELL NO when the corporate idiots try to abuse us for fun and profit nothing will change.

      • Seth says:

        Another authoritarian heard from. The reference to “a fleet of corporate jets” is laughable. This flight was departing from United’s hub in Chicago. Its largest or second largest base in the WORLD. If they had corporate jets anywhere in the world they would have them in Chicago.

      • Seth says:

        Another authoritarian heard from. The reference to “a fleet of corporate jets” is laughable. This flight was departing from United’s hub in Chicago. Its largest or second largest base in the WORLD. If they had corporate jets anywhere in the world they would have them in Chicago.

  65. Julian Wan says:

    Thank you for this helpful post.

    I have been part of “bumps” in the past but usually these are all sorted out BEFORE anyone boards the plane – sometimes during the gate line up – they start announcing the incentives (usually booked to a later flight, vouchers, money etc.) To wait until everyone is on board and then escalate to a forced removal can’t be viewed as a positive action by anyone associated with either United or its subcontractors.

    Do you think there was pressure to get the flight off on time?

    Your observation about lack of on-the-scene flexibility and imagination strikes me as true – it isn’t some conspiracy as just fear of trying to sort things out and then getting fired for not sticking exactly to the letter of some standard operating procedures. Calling the police is a terrible default option.

  66. Eric says:

    It doesn’t matter that it’s Express it’s still under the United banner. CEO and COO are just not up for the task. This is simple and VERY basic operational skills and knowledge. Any skilled operation executive can figure this one out! Bump people before they baord a flight. If a crew shows up to go to another city after boarding, again basic operation skills that can be avoided. We understand the overbooking necessity to allow better and competitive pricing. But this lack of experience and knowledge from top executives is unacceptable and shows such lack of business ethics!!

  67. Ron says:

    Excellent article. Very well reasoned, not to mention informative. Empowerment is the best way to allow common sense to prevail, not just in the airlines but in many businesses. I always say that when a customer service problem arises, three things can happen and two of them are good. The only bad thing that can happen is for the company to fail to meet the cusotmer’s expectations. In this case the airline clearly didn’t and as a result is paying a huge price in public relations and on Wall Street. That $800 is looking pretty small now, eh?
    The airlines have been allowed to merge their way into monopolizing their markets so this kind of rude, arrogant, heavy-handed treatment of customers is almost certain to occur. But, hey, fares are cheaper, right? It seems to me that there is a market for a new kind of airline that charges somewhat higher fares but delivers much better service.

  68. jj says:

    Thank you for sharing your perspective on this very troubling event, including providing some likely unknown context. I’ve been a loyal flyer on the airline for decades, dating back to Continental. High status over the years, etc. I have to respectfully disagree with one point that you say is important: that this Express flight was in effect subcontracted by United to another carrier. It is noteworthy, but is it important or meaningful: in the end, United is responsible. Surely, any subcontractor representing United in this capacity is in effect “United.” Per contract they probably need to meet certain minimum requirements and standards or follow “values” that are shared by United, or that United represents to customers. If not, shame on the industry. The CEO said he stands by his employees. Does that include subcontractors? He hasn’t passed that buck yet, but I am sure his crisis management team and PR agency have floated the idea. I’ve had several hiccups with United but stay loyal. After this, if the CEO doesn’t “do right” by this passenger and everone else on the plane (who has the scars of witnessing the “extraction”), I’m done. And isn’t that what liability insurance policies are for? I would have to pile on and ask for his resignation. No excuses, no corporate cliche. Just full accountability, complete and transparent ownership, apology and quick decisive action. People have short memories and will be back to supporting the brand if he shows true leadership.

  69. Greybeard says:

    After all the other troubling aspects of this, I’m also disturbed that the rest of the pax did nothing. I’m NOT saying I would have leapt into the fray — more that we’re conditioned to be good sheep once we step onto airport property, lest something like this happen.

    There should have been 50+ people saying “This is not reasonable, stop it right now!”

    • JDW says:

      Some did protest. But who’s to say they wouldn’t have been decreed by the rent-a-thugs as “impeding with police action” and subject to the same treatment? Or, even worse, subject to federal felony charges for attempted air piracy?

  70. Kay says:

    The fact that this was a low capacity plane makes the situation even worse than it appears. Chances were low that they could get 4 people to volunteer to give up their seats once they boarded. That leaves 4 people randomly being kicked off – 4 out of 48 economy passengers. And I’m sure they didn’t “randomly” pick those passengers. From the reports it looks like they selected 2 couples (not random). Two couples that would make it easier to order to kick off rather than going up to 4 people individually and dealing with 4 different irate people.

  71. JR in WV says:

    I was stranded in Atlanta when I attempted to travel to Tucson AZ for personal business. Delta flew me into a morass of trapped customers when they knew (certainly should have known) that there was no chance that I would be able to make any flight out to Tucson, ever.

    I stood in line on a marble floor (beautiful, but really hard) from 1 am til 7 am to rebook a flight. No, I couldn’t call Delta’s call center, it was down. No, I couldn’t use their web site, it was down. No, I couldn’t get a cab to a hotel, stranded passengers from the day before filled them. No, I couldn’t get a rental car, they too were all gone already.

    There was a brief weather delay the day before my experience. There is no excuse for the lack of planning and management failure that allows this kind of situation to snowball for days after a brief shutdown. While the passenger-facing staff was polite and working hard, they could not conjure a plane and crew out of hope.

    When I got home, my wife met me because I was afraid to drive my car home after being awake for nearly 36 hours.

    Something is bad wrong in an industry where thousands of people can be mistreated and select people can be beaten bloody while attempting to travel safely.

  72. Josh says:

    So if we assume this is deadheading employees and it is company assigned flying, then that should have been calculated into the seat assignments. United’s contract for carriage calls for involuntary denial of boarding and as comment #1 asks, when is a passenger considered boarded? The contract for carriage doesn’t define it. But it really seems like the denial should have been from getting on the jetway, not removal of seated passengers.

    With the computers and logistic specialists they should be able to do a proper count before letting those passengers scan their boarding pass.

  73. Adam says:

    How you can be “denied boarding” after you have boarded the plane? Isn’t there a higher burden required to remove you from the plane after they have allowed you to board? At what point am I actually “boarded”? Only once the plane pushes back from the gate?

  74. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    $800×4 is $3200, plus the cost of 4 hotel rooms is even more. They could have charted a limo between Chicago and Louisville for that, for the crew or the passengers. It’s only a 4-hour drive.

    Add champagne and some snacks and they would have had volunteers!

    • Douglas says:

      Anyone who’s actually driven the length of the state of Illinois (let alone anyone who’s driven Chicago traffic) will laugh quite heartily at the “4 hour” estimate for a drive to Louisville, KY!

      • Seth says:

        Google maps says 4 hours, 39 minutes. Seems to me it would depend on the time of day. Wasn’t this flight departing after rush hour?

  75. Kevin Brady says:

    I I haven’t seen anything here about the pilots – don’t they normally get involved before security would pull a passenger off, or do they stay out of it unless it’s specifically a safety issue?

  76. Max says:

    Why wouldn’t they just increase the compensation for being bumped until someone volunteers? By report one person just before this incident became violent offered to volunteer for 1600$, which was 800$ more than the airline offered. These 800$ would have prevented this event from ever happening. The time it took the CEO to respond cost far more than that.

    • Patrick says:

      Right. But isn’t that the point of my post?

    • Steve says:

      I think there’s a very simple answer to why they didn’t offer more in order to reach a sensible resolution. The official requirement to compensate passengers who are involuntarily denied boarding is 4 times “the fare to the destination”, with a maximum of $1350 (for an arrival delayed by 2 hours or more). I don’t know what this passenger’s ticket actually cost, but randomly picking a Sunday 2 months from now the United website shows a fare of only $167 for the last flight of the day. Being bumped from that would get you $668. Of course that would be cash, but businesses often can’t tell the difference between real money and what they think a voucher costs them. I’m sure the corporate philosophy is “Why give more than $800 to volunteers when we only have to pay $668?”

      I think there’s a very good chance that employees involved in this fiasco knew it would make more sense to offer what was necessary to get volunteers, but if any of them had the necessary authority I’m sure they were worried about the repercussions of exercising it. That the CEO has lauded them for following the rules makes it very clear that they chose the best course of action for their careers.

      • Yomero says:

        And even if they paid the 4 passengers the full $1350 maximum allowed by law, that’s $5400 compared to the maybe millions from this PR Catastrophe.

        As Patrick mentioned it’s a lack of empowerment and maybe also a lack of common sense that let this escalate into physically removing the passenger on board. From what’s been said, it wasn’t a overbooking, they needed 4 seats for deadheading staff. Which by all accounts should have been handled beforehand from a logistics point of view. Even then they had many chances to solve it at the check-in counter, at the gate, etc.

        Another thing I would question is their parameters on who to bump, we know about the priorities about disabilities, minors, reservation time, fare. But as you see they only removed the doctor, while seemingly leaving his wife on board. So splitting families is ok?

      • JDW says:

        Yes, the staff was “lauded” by Munoz. Anyone want to bet they will suddenly be on the firing line now that he has realized his hardline approach was tanking and needs to reverse course?

  77. Kevin says:

    Cabin crew members frequently stay in the cockpit if a pilot has to use the restroom. Off Duty pilots frequently use the jump seat in the Cockpit especially when they are done and going home. Why couldn’t the last crew member of this situation not use the jump seat with the pilots as a solution? Was this a reciprocal arrangement as the crew was from another airline and not allowed in the cockpit?

  78. MarkM says:

    Don’t all airliner cockpits have jumpseats, an extra seat or two in the cockpit? If so, might not accomodating a United employee there have been a better alternative to the brutal treatment of the doctor?

    • Patrick says:

      Yes, there would have been a cockpit jumpseat. It may have been occupied already, I don’t know. Crews being repositioned usually aren’t permitted to use the jumpseat, per work rules, but this might be different at a regional carrier like Republic. In any case, it should never have come to that. All they had to do was offer enough of a travel voucher and they would have found volunteers.

      • Pch says:

        I was on Virgin America recently after some bad weather – in 1C so I could see what was going on – and that is exactly what they did – 1 crew on the cockpit jump seat and 1 on the spare crew seat at the front. I think there may have been one spare crew in the crew seats at the back as well.

  79. chris lingre says:

    this incident may be catalyst to re-introduce some common sense federal regulation. sorry, CEOs. . .it’s all on you.

  80. Frank says:

    Talk about not thinking outside the box. They should have only trid to displace 2 passengers instead of four as one of the pilots of the crew that needed to be in Louisville could have ridden in the cockpit jumpseat. Apparently the EMB 170 has an extra jumpseat in the main cabin that one of the off duty FAs could ride in as well. I base that on this account of the airplane:

    Trying to forcibly twice as many passengers off as was required is really inexcusable. It’s right up there with not making one last call for volunteers once the other passengers saw that the older gentleman had stated a good reason why he could not accept the delay to 3 pm Monday as well as they might be able to.

  81. Alex says:

    IMO a large part of the problem is that ever since 9/11 there’s been a general attitude across airline culture that it’s okay to treat passengers like animals for the sake of “safety”. From rude FAs to dragging people off flights for praying or speaking the wrong language. And this is largely a problem among US carriers. European and Asian airlines still treat their passengers like people and you don’t see their planes falling out of the sky.

    Bottom line for UA is this is not how you treat a paying customer…not to mention their typical boneheaded PR/social media response in the aftermath. I hope they pay dearly for it.

    • Seth says:

      9/11 empowered all of the most brutal authoritarians throughout the system.

      Toxic, exploitative management-labor relations created a bad environment before that.

  82. Rod says:

    Bad move, United. For what the lost public goodwill will eventually cost, you could have bought these employees their own airplane!

    This is so wrong in so many ways, United should consider getting into a different sort of business. Some kind of business where they don’t have much, if any, contact with the general public.

  83. InfrequentFlyer says:

    I agree with the vast majority of others’ sentiments. The airlines’ actions seem excessive, if not ridiculous. There had to have been better options to attempt before having law enforcement physically remove the passenger. Don’t we teach children, from the time they’re old enough to understand, that we don’t put our hands on other people, no matter how much we disagree or want our way? With that having been said– Why didn’t the customer get up and walk (if only to minimize the potential of bodily harm to himself)? He couldn’t have thought that they’d just let go, could he? It appeared that he went against the instinctive, maybe reflexive urge to stay on one’s feet. I’m not condoning what United did. It’s interesting to note that when one party dug in, the acted-upon party dug in just as hard. It appears that once things get heated to the point where a situation gets physical, there’s very little hope for a civil outcome.

  84. Lee says:

    If I was united I would have started an auction. “I need someone to give up his seat for 500 bucks. Anyone? How about 1000 bucks? Anyone? 1500? 2000? Yes the young man in the red shirt will take the 2000 bucks. Problem solved”

    Such an easy solution. Everyone has his price. No fighting. Just a happy guy getting 2000 bucks.

  85. Speed says:

    Some interesting numbers from the Wall Street Journal …

    U.S. airlines talked more than 430,000 passengers into leaving overbooked flights in 2016, the Transportation Department said, usually in exchange for compensation worth several hundred dollars and a guaranteed seat on a later flight. About 40,000 passengers were also “involuntarily” denied boarding last year, the department said, a fraction of the 660 million passengers that flew in the U.S. last year. It is unusual, however, for an airline to remove passengers who have already boarded the plane.

    [ … ]

    The incident fueled 937,000 conversations about United on Twitter on Monday, said Networked Insights Inc., a social analytics firm, compared with fewer than 4,000 tweets concerning the airline on a typical day.

    • overtech says:

      I would be suspect of that number.. 3 of the 4 people on flight accepted the “voluntary” offer when given the hobsonian choice thus only one was denied. the Denial stat is a very bad thing and the airlines will game the numbers to avoid it.

  86. Speed says:

    Air Transport World brings up an interesting point …

    Aside from the very real damage United has done to itself with this incident, this will hurt its Star Alliance partners – airlines that promise “seamless service” across the partner airlines. Can you imagine ANA, Singapore Airlines or Lufthansa contemplating whether one of their customers might be exposed to this type of “service” if they fly on a United-operated aircraft with a boarding pass that carries their brand?

  87. Vincent Jay says:

    So far the story’s been that these employees were last minute arrivals and are on stand-by and nothing indicating they are there for relocation. Also, doesn’t the Embraer E170 offer a jump seat for any possible pilot deadheading be it in the flight deck or main cabin? Cabin crew should not be deemed as high a priority considering it’s mainly pilots that are held to a set flight hour limit. Even though it may have been a Republic Airways flight it’s still associated with United and I don’t know why they couldn’t catch a flight on United itself or another partner carrier.

    • Patrick says:

      There’s zero chance that the passenger was removed for a non-revenue employee on standby. None.

      As to the cockpit jumpseat, as I said in reply to another comment, it may have been occupied already, I’m not sure. Also, crews being repositioned usually aren’t allowed to use the jumpseat, per work rules, though this could be different at a regional carrier like Republic. In any case, it should never have come to that. All they had to do was offer enough of a travel voucher and they would have found volunteers.

  88. Vincent says:

    So far the story’s been that these employees were last minute arrivals and are on stand-by and nothing indicating they are there for relocation. Also, doesn’t the Embraer E170 offer a jump seat for any possible pilot deadheading be it in the flight deck or main cabin? Cabin crew should not be deemed as high a priority considering it’s mainly pilots that are held to a set flight hour limit. Even though it may have been a Republic Airways flight it’s still associated with United and I don’t know why they couldn’t catch a flight on United itself or another partner carrier.

    • Vincent Jay says:

      Cabin crew are given a bit more leniency in extending their limited flight hours and the difference is made up elsewhere. The flight between O’Hare and Tennessee isn’t that drastic in flight time. Cabin crew’s duties are far less strenuous as the pilot’s and first officers. Then again it’s probably due to women making up the majority of cabin crew otherwise men would be told to suck it up as they are in other sectors that are more grueling than cabin attendant.

  89. Peter tunq says:

    You seem to empathize with United on why it needed to get its crew to the destination. If this was such a rare occurrence as many have pointed out United should have found another way to get their crew there, instead of forcibly removing a paying customer off the plane. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an United Express or a regular United flight, United as a company is behind the incident and is responsible for all its actions. Otherwise don’t put the company name on it. Nothing can justify the horrible treatment this paying customer had to endure. This is disgusting behaviour and equally disgusting justification and explanation by Munoz, the United CEO.

    • Patrick says:

      Empathize how? I pointed out that yes, repositioning crews is important and a high priority. But under no circumstances did it need to come to this.

  90. Fazal Majid says:

    Presumably the passenger in question had checked luggage. Wasn’t United/Republic violating all sorts of DHS and FAA security regulations by not offloading the luggage as well, which would delay everything?

    The South China Morning Post points out that United could have booked its deadheading staff on a Southwest flight from Midway for under $250, or much less than the compensation it had to pay the 3 passengers who “volunteered” to be bumped.

    The Chinese public is incensed over social media over what is perceived as an ethnically targeted action (the passenger is Asian, possibly Chinese). It would be great karma if the Chinese authorities took United’s prized landing slots in China and reassigned them to, say, American, because “they were overbooked”/

  91. Carol says:

    It still makes no sense. The airline staff should have (1) offering $500 (the usual) flight certificate then $1,000 and a flight on another plane, even another airline. If that didn’t work, which is highly doubtful, they should have let folks know they couldn’t leave without someone volunteering to get off. I just can’t believe that wouldn’t work. They should have been prepared to offer big money, not the usual $500, which doesn’t really go far these days.
    It’s bizarre that the police or security officers went along with this.
    United has really fallen in quality and now PR.

    • Mark says:

      IIRC the flight was delayed form some time, which presumably incurred a cost to the airline. The maxim “Planes don’t make money on the ground”. In addition the three who removed the passenger have been described as “rent-a-cops”. If they were a private agency does the airline get a bill?

  92. Scott Moore says:

    Using “root” in the second paragraph of the article implies you are using root cause analysis which is great for inanimate object/material failures, but root cause analysis is an inferior methodology for human performance. If you use the military’s (originated by Naval Air Force) and DOE methodologies of multiple error precursors you will understand human error is dependent on context and elements of time. You can pick a root cause only if you pick that exact moment in time. But you’ll will also find that there were other error preconditions/precursors at times, say a week ago or a year ago that contributed to the outcome.

  93. Jo says:

    As a flight crew member, while I was working on airport standby, I have been ordered to fly as a deadhead to ORD so I could work a trip out of that airport. That flight was leaving very shortly and the gate agents denied me boarding because it was full and almost all passengers were boarded. I informed the schedulers and received a call about 10 mins later and was accused of lying and not making it on time to the gate. My point is that everything is designed for it to be always someone else’s fault, may it be crew, the outsourcing, security, gate agents, but never ever top management that created and allowed such things to begin with. Instead of being proactive and properly preparing for such events or having other solutions ready (meaning less money in their pockets), just make it the fault of others. Ground staff and flight crew are pressured to make it right for everybody with the least amount of resources. As long as seats are filled and tickets are sold, Wall Street is happy. This incident will have minimal to zero effect on stocks because the airline runs a monopoly and the government entity that was responsible for this can’t be boycotted.

  94. David says:

    I don’t care if it is United airlines, united express, republic airlines or whatever. I have been disrespected by United airlines employees and have had 3 bad experience (staying overnight in an conection city) out of 5 time. United Airlines SUCKS. THEY ARE VERY UNPROFESSIONAL. #boicotunited. #sueunited

  95. Neil says:

    I’m not sure why it’s “important” to note that this was a Republic operated flight. When United (applies to AA and DL too of course) subcontract to regionals, sell it as a United flight, paint the plane in United livery, has check in at United counters, hawk United credit cards and United frequent flier program on board, United has to own it, from start to finish.

    How they fix problems with subcontractors is an internal one, and United better not be pointing fingers in public. I’m glad to see they haven’t done so… yet.

    • Greybeard says:

      Absolutely it’s no excuse. It may, however, explain (again, NOT excuse!) some of the confusion, and the UA CEO’s stupid, useless reaction. If he got the message (filtered through multiple layers of say-nothing-bad “leadership”) that “One of the Republic knuckleheads did something dumb, pissed off a pax, and the cops got involved”, his reaction might *almost* make sense. Only almost, because anyone with four working neurons would investigate before saying anything, especially blaming the victim, but I can see it happening.

  96. Speed says:

    Jon Ostrower posted on twitter United CEO Oscar Munez’ letter to staff …

    United CEO Oscar Munoz sent this letter to staff: “While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you.”

  97. coin operated says:

    It may be a United Express carrier, but someone at United Ops made the call to get those 4 deadheads on that flight.

    • CJM says:

      Another unwarranted assumption. The pilots were probably from Republic Airlines, but you have no idea who they worked for. It’s so easy to invent things, but manufactured outrage is unfair and unproductive.

  98. Bob says:

    I call Bullshit, where was the “Pilot” the PIC in all this? It is my understanding that Chain of command calls for Crew to handle this minor problem, THEN the Crew Leader/Chief when problem escalated should have properly addressed this. If no resolution, and BEFORE these idiots violated a Passenger’s RIGHTS (assault) the PIC/ Pilot In Command must be NOTIFIED. Ultimately, this is the PIC’s aircraft and FAA RULES are rules; same as when hazardous material is loaded into the cargo hold – PIC decides !

    FWIW: Under U.S. FAA FAR 91.3, “Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command”, the FAA declares:[4]

    The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.
    In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.
    Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.
    U.S. FAA FAR 121.533(e) gives broad and complete final authority to airline captains: “Each pilot in command has full control and authority in the operation of the aircraft, without limitation, over other crew members and their duties during flight time, whether or not he holds valid certificates authorizing him to perform the duties of those crew members.”

    • CJM says:

      The airplane was parked at the gate, not in-flight where the rules you quote do not apply. Why is no one making up stuff about how the passenger behaved? He appears to have been increasingly belligerent, disregarding crew instructions. There were probably any number of ways this situation could’ve been de-escalated, but the passenger chose not to. Three other people got up and left the airplane. They didn’t start a fight, nor refuse to follow the instructions of airline personnel. And if the other passengers were so outraged and horrified, why did none of them offer their seat to this man?

      • RNM says:

        Most of us empathize with the passenger because we’ve been repeatedly treated like numbers and objects by airlines. I’m guessing you work for an airline. I don’t know how else one could be so out of touch with what it’s like to fly as a member of the paying public.

      • SEth says:

        I’m guessing your goose-stepping to authority means you’re a Trump voter. How is someone refusing to leave his seat being “belligerent”? The belligerent ones were the ones ordering him to be removed by force and the ones actually removing him by force.

  99. Aaron says:

    I can not even watch the video because I am so enraged. In addition, this is Chicago police, acting in front of a plane full of people with cell phone cameras. And still they decided to act like violent thugs. And then the Chicago Police issues the most ‘through the looking’ version of events. And it follows a Fed report that the Chicago PD had an illegal black site for decades where confessions where coerced and/or beaten out of suspects without miranda and without attorneys. If I was a judge in Chicago, I do not see how I could consider anything the Chicago police department or it’s personnel says to have any credibility without a corroborating video.

    Putting all that aside: They offered $800 and a free hotel stay to get volunteers. WHY DID THEY STOP? Why not offer 1000$ $1200$ and so on till 4 people accepted.
    Because United is a rich company that could easily afford it but instead found it more convenient to have armed thugs beat people then pay whatever the market required to find 4 volunteers to get off the plane. I hope United is forced to pay millions in settlements to these victims.

  100. Craig says:

    So many things went wrong in this event. But one of the keys is how United manages the gate procedures.

    Now, as a frequent United traveler I can say that their have been a lot of improvements overall since the previous CEO was canned. Flight delays were rampant in 2015 and now they seem under control. There have been a number of noticeable improvements inside the planes, in the clubs, and on the apps – and this is true from the bottommost class to First Class. However, the one area that did not get better was at the gate. In fact it got worse – communication is poorer and management of passengers is poorer, indicating higher turnover and less training. The compensation for overbooking was dramatically slashed – $500 was common as a starter, now they start as low as $100 and rarely go above $300.

    IOW, from what I’ve seen in other companies there probably is some senior exec put in charge of that area who tries to make his/her name by slashing costs regardless of impacts. Inevitably a situation like this one happens.

    Think of the things that had to go wrong here. First, they got the number of overbookings wrong – they were asking for 1 volunteer then after boarding was nearly over they increased that to 4. Then they didn’t take action until after people were boarded. Then they failed to increase compensation beyond a certain limit.

    (to be continued)

    • Craig says:

      (continuing main comment)

      But finally, they set up a situation sure to create a horrible set of passenger videos. They could have chosen to announce to people that due to a passenger not leaving they were going to need everyone from that row forward to disembark so that the police could forcibly remove him. Usually the embarrassment that would cause, combined with dealing with the reality that he was in fact going to be removed, would cause the passenger to relent. But if he still clung (literally) to his window seat, it would give the police more room to work – have one in the row in front, one beside him, one in the row behind, to work together to remove the passenger with minimal risk of injury – and further to avoid injury to others if he continued to flail about while being moved up the aisle.

      But no, they called the police and had them try to yank the passenger out from the aisle. Completely stupid.

      The executive in charge of gate procedures should be fired for cause and the whole department revamped from top to bottom.

      • Henry Ridgeway says:

        Remove the passenger for what reason? He had a legal license, issued by the carrier, to be on that plane. He paid good money to enter into a contract for carriage with United. Frankly, I find your comments absurd and offensive. This man should have been arrested for the crime of entering into a legally biding contract with an airline? Put the flight crew on a bus or send a Gulfstrem for them, but United’s lack of planning is not his problem, nor should it be.

  101. Speed says:

    If the plane had N seats, how did N+1 (or N+4) people board?

    And now, a happier story … Travelling on Southwest this weekend, after all the window seats were filled a mother and child with child-seat boarded (she had missed the pre-board announcement). Children in child-seats must sit in window seats.

    The stewardess stood in the aisle, took a deep breath and said (without a microphone) something like “OK folks, we need a window seat and middle seat together here. Who can help us out?” A nice man and his companion offered theirs, moved to separate middle seats and everyone left on time with a smile.

    There are undoubtedly hundreds of happy stories among the more than 600 million passengers carried by US airlines every year but they are the norm and don’t make the news.

    We all just want to get where we’re goin’.

  102. Dan Ullman says:

    I was under the impression that deadheading crew were “assigned” seats and those seats were taken out of the inventory. If that is the case, shouldn’t the service crew have known they had an overbooked aircraft before it was loaded? It not like the deadheading crew wasn’t likely to show up.

  103. Jeff says:

    In fact, the flight was not over-booked. United needed space for four of its employees — on standby — to deadhead to be in place for their flights the following day. United chose to remove a confirmed, revenue passenger, who was already in his seat next to his wife, to make room for its revenue-free employees flying on standby. I understand United’s position that it had to get its people into place for their flights. I also understand that, when I was in the service and flying standby, I was responsible for arriving at my duty station on time — even if that meant flying in a day or two early to account for possible delays or unavailability of standby room.

    • Scott says:

      That is 100% false. People cannot be denied boarding for standby. You are incorrect.

    • Kevin B says:

      Your points are well taken but they would not have been on standby – they are high priority business normally with solid reservations – in this case there must have been a last minute change that normally doesn’t happen and its rare to have to take people off planes.

  104. Monika says:

    Why did the United CEO apologize for something its employees were not responsible for then? I think that is one of the things confusing people.

    • Patrick says:

      Because, 1., the vast majority of the traveling public has no idea these “Express” companies are separate entities staffed by completely different employee groups, and, 2., the major carriers don’t necessarily want them to.

      And further because of 1., trying to explain it away as somebody else’s fault wasn’t going to play well. You’re attaching your name and livery to a product; you should be ready to take the fall for it.

    • Christopher Scott says:

      The PR department that wrote the CEO’s response is as inept as the bungle heads handling the on-the-ground situation.


      I get it – in airline speak, re-accomodate must mean giving a passenger a new seat. In the real world, the world travelers live in, re-accommodate sounds like an Orwellian perversion. If accommodate means providing for the needs of another party or to give what is needed by another person, then re-accommodate means what? You failed to accommodate the passenger the first time so now you have a do over?

      If that’s the case, I see a real advantage to the verb re-accomodate…

      “Flight attendant – my seat is uncomfortable. I’d like to be re-accomodated.”

      – or –

      “Gate keeper, your attitude stinks. Please re-accommodate my experience of this airline.”

      – or –

      “United really thinks I’ll keep paying to be treated like cattle in a feedlot, herded into an overcrowded pen, fed an unhealthy diet, if anything at all, and then left for the slaughter house, aka my return trip? At every step of this journey, I’d like to be re-accomodated.”

      If I’ve learned anything, it’s that, at United, and most airlines, whether it’s the people at checkin or the gate, on the plane “attending” me, or sitting in the CEO’s chair, no one thinks of passengers as anything more than a truck load of cows.

      This event has just reinforced my view. After all, what happens when a cow gets stubborn in the chute?

      He’s re-accomodated.

  105. Planely Obsessed says:

    This is more of an example of bad communication and disorganised staff. A paying passenger who hasn’t broken the law shouldn’t be tackled and dragged humiliatingly and uncomfortably down the aisle. The Republic crew up front would have had little idea of what was happening, as would the United staff in the terminal. What really outrages me isn’t the actions of the airline, it’s the actions of the cops who treated the guy like some potential terrorist. United’s handling of what happened after is far worse than the mistakes they made in calling law enforcement, which was pretty much all they had to do with the situation, giving little information out that wasn’t already known.

    Assuming it was the United staff who made the call, the Republic crewmembers should have better found out what was going on, then told the staff the same information, who would help and reassure the people in finding new flights. Given how common overbooking are, I’d hope that constructive actions and good communication between workers is routine.

  106. Barbara Paine says:

    If I reserved a table at a restaurant and ordered a meal. I wouldn’t expect the restaurant to inform me that they needed that table so their employees could eat, and order me to leave. Same thing if I booked a hotel room, got settled in and the hotel told me to leave because they had a staff conference. This was United’s problem, and not the passengers.
    I agree, this was probably a bad call by a low or mid level employee who was frustrated and afraid to explain to upper management why their flight crew had been stranded. They lost two hours anyway, and the bad publicity that they’ve received from this would have more than paid for a private plane to send that crew wherever they needed to go.
    And the government wants to hand over more FAA functions to the airlines?

  107. Rebecca Meeks says:

    Hey Patrick I emailed you about this this morning, thank you for posting a blog post. May I ask what passenger rights are in this situation, especially when they tried to move other crew members by booting paying passengers? I understand another couple who got booted left very reluctantly! Is the carrier legally allowed to do this?? I’m just shocked… apparently the passenger came back to the airline and pleaded but was unable to get a seat.

  108. Paul Pally says:

    I think the reason this story resonates so strongly is because most of us have been subjected to arbitrary and capricious actions by airline employees, which seem more in keeping with the petty tyrannies of the DMV than of a consumer-based service. More often than not, gate agents and flight crew don’t explain to customers why and for what purpose they take actions or give directions, making it seem like airline employees use their authority solely for the psychic benefit they get from wielding power over the masses. I can understand the need to take a more authoritarian approach in emergencies, but not in more mundane scenarios. Case in point: I flew on American Airlines yesterday with a carry-on bag that I’ve carried on every other flight I’ve taken with the airline. At the gate, the agent told me the bag wouldn’t fit in the overhead bin. When I showed her my ticket (I was flying in First Class), she said “oh go ahead then” and let me board with the bag. The bins in economy were the same size and not all full. So why the hassle? Or how about when I was on a cross-country BWI-LAX flight and the pilot kept the fasten seatbelt sign on for the entire 6-hour flight while the attendants tried to harass each passenger who got up to use the bathroom back to their seat. (of course I saw both pilots use the restroom during the flight.) I’m sure there was some perfectly good reason for all of this. But no explanation. Airlines must recognize their human cargo is indeed human.

    • Art Knight says:

      Yes! I work as a part-time cashier at Super Target. We refer to folks that shop there as “guests” just like Disney World. It really makes a big difference in our interactions. When you check out in my lane I am happy to see you. I treat you as a guest in my home. Oh, and I make $9.00 an hour.

  109. David C Miller says:

    I have 200,000 flyer miles with United and will give them to friend and family. I am just blown away that they didn’t even offer or mention next flights available to the passengers, so some could make decision that it would be taking the next flight.

    Will never fly United or United Express again. And I feel they have just lost a LOT of customers by being greedy. And all so that 4 UNITED employees could be on the flight.

    As the Tump would tweet. #sad!

  110. Stephen Stapleton says:

    “That doesn’t mitigate what happened, and I don’t know which employees — Republic crewmembers or mainline United customer service employees in the terminal — were the ones who made the call to have the passenger taken off, but it’s important to note.”

    Oh, also, the Republic crew members were acting as agents for United. United is not only responsible for the actions of its direct employees, but also for the actions of United’s agents and their employees.

    Frankly, sue them all and let G-d (the judge) sort it out.

  111. Stephen Stapleton says:

    This is was absolutely not a case of overbooking. Every single paying passenger had a seat and was in it. Not one paying passenger did not have a seat. That is overbooking. This is an example of poor employee scheduling. United wanted to move a crew to another location, but hadn’t bothered to reserve the necessary seats to do so. Rather than continue to increase the money they would pay in an open market to obtain a willing seller of this scarce commodity, a seat on the plane, United decided to mug one of its passengers.

    I simply do not believe the law permits a flight crew to forcibly remove a paying passenger who has not done anything wrong just to steal his seat. United was fully capable of chartering a flight to move the employees to the necessary airport. United was fully capable of paying far more money than was offered to obtain a willing seller. Instead, United robbed one its passengers like a common street thug. There wasn’t a safety issue here. There was not a flight emergency. There wasn’t any reason that would empower the flight crew to remove that man other than poor planning by United. United simply acted like a common drug junkie. They took what they wanted by force.

    Frankly, the flight crew should be charged with robbery, assault, battery, and conspiracy. United should be denied use of the airport for five years.

    All I can say, is I dearly wish I were that passenger’s attorney. My retirement would be at hand.

    • Patrick says:

      Thanks for the comment Stephen. Deadheading crews are “booked” in more or less the same manner as passengers, and often well in advance.

      (By the way, I tried replying to you directly, but your server resets my email as spam.)

      • Carlos Mucha says:

        Stephen is right, the legal liability here is tremendous. What boggles the mind is that United’s public defense rests on hoping no one notices that the “denial of boarding” process doesn’t actually apply to a passenger who has already been allowed aboard by the airline. United’s contract of carriage rule 25 sets process to deny boarding to some passenger in case of overbooking (asking for volunteers, offering compensation, selecting nonvolunteers). However that train had already left the station here, once passengers are aboard they can only be denied transport– per rule 21– for specific reasons (govt advisory, force majeure, failure to pay for ticket, etc). Since none of those reasons applied, they had no reason to have the guy tossed. Besides the causes of action mentioned above, United probably tacked on libel claim to the inevitable lawsuit with its idiot CEO defaming the passenger as disruptive and belligerent in an open letter (doesn’t matter that no one knows passenger name yet, we all will eventually).

        • Seth says:

          Oh, how I would LOVE to see the CEO sued personally for libel.

        • James Li says:

          I agree that there is a serious question as to whether the Contract of Carriage for “overbooking” even applies in this situation. However, the other question that has not been raised is why the aviation officers were there in the first place.

          If, as United will argue, the Contract of Carriage applies, then this is a contract issue. Cops are not supposed to get involved in civil matters, only criminal matters.

          Just because the cops assault you does not change a civil matter into a criminal one (at least from the standpoint of the victim).

          • Richard Haan says:

            No, it does not apply since Munoz has finally confirmed the flight was not overbooked (although of course most media continue to report it was)

            USA Today

    • Susan says:

      Well stated, Stephen.

    • Earl Boebert says:

      I have a slight acquaintance with airline reservation systems and something about the leadin to this sorry affair confuses me greatly. As noted by Patrick and others, deadheading employees typically are booked in advance just like paying passengers. So there appears to have been two options:

      1) The deadheading employees were booked in advance. If that was the case, the gate crew should have known that there were more potential passengers than seats when they opened the flight for checkin and been able to handle the situation before boarding.

      2) The deadheading employees were not booked in advance and showed up after the flight was boarded as an unpleasant surprise for the gate crew. If this was the case, the the gate crew was placed in the situation Patrick described.

      Case 1 means there was an (IMHO improbable) oversight on the part of the gate crew. Case 2 means there was a systemic problem with the crew scheduling system. In either case it was the airline’s problem to get their people where they were supposed to be, a problem they solved in the worst possible way.

  112. Patrick, You make a very important observation about hesitance to act. In this case that hesitance had an equal and opposite reaction; an inappropriately harsh act carried out by the Chicago Police. But the police were called by United gate agents, so the decision was most definitely in the hands of United workers, not the Republic Airways crew. Republic Airways is not commenting and United is not deflecting criticism to Republic. At least not yet. Can a lawsuit be far? I think not. Read my post on this here. ​

  113. Dan says:

    The tweets and social media discussion are uniformly saying that there was an offer of $800 in travel credits and a night stay but no one bit. The “computer” “randomly” selected four people, and three of them left. This guy “refused to volunteer” – which sounds staggeringly Orwellian – and then someone called the cops.

    To say this is a PR nightmare is to insult bad PR. I bet that – conservatively – United loses $25 million from this. I work for a company that flies people around the world constantly, and everyone I know here today canceled their United flights. The United CEO’s weak response is only making it worse.

    I simply do not understand what they were thinking – you’re going to (1) drag a guy off the plane and then (2) ALLOW HIM BACK ON LATER bleeding? It staggers the imagination.

  114. Anand Kelkar says:

    Ok now I am really confused about consumer rights here. If I purchase a ticket paying the full amount then check in using the United app, I have a valid boarding card and I am still not guaranteed a seat on the plane? I understand that the airline reserves the right to deny service if I broke some rule like a restaurant can but this makes no sense to me. Also as other readers have pointed out that removing passengers to accommodate employees makes this even more sad. Patrick are there specific polices governing how and when employees can catch a flight to go to work? In my view employees unless they are working on that flight are no different than people who have paid to fly. I also don’t understand why the airline cannot sort this out before it boards the plane.

    • Steve says:

      It’s long and boring (and not always clear), but you might want to read the contract of carriage for United or any other airline. Notice that the first word of that document is “contract”.

      When an airline offers to sell you a ticket and you accept the offer you both enter into a contract that gives both parties some rights and some obligations. To a large extent the airline’s only obligation is to make an honest effort to get you (and allowed/paid luggage) to your destination. Eventually; they never actually commit to getting you there anywhere near on time. Among the many rights that the airline reserves is not giving you the seat you booked if they’d like to give a seat to somebody else and they don’t have one that wasn’t sold.

      If this particular flight simply had 4 more passengers booked than it had seats United would have been completely within its contractual rights to deny _boarding_ to 4 passengers if they couldn’t get volunteers. In that case United would have been required to compensate them based on applicable law. As others have pointed out, there doesn’t seem to be any reasonable justification for characterizing this incident as denied boarding. The passenger obviously wasn’t denied boarding since they allowed him to board the plane and take his seat, and the flight crew that was being accommodated apparently weren’t booked at the time the other passengers were boarded.

  115. Dave says:

    Any idea who sets the overbooking policy, the regional carrier or the major they serve?

  116. Dani T. says:

    Thanks for covering this very important story. I’ve heard you speak about airline travel on media outlets before. I thought I would visit your site to see how an insider would remark on this story. As an outsider, I am horrified. It seems crazy to me that a company in the business of customer service would treat any customer like this. I really don’t care about the commercial incentive or justification. Barring the customer posing a threat to the safety and comfort of other PAYING customers, there is no excuse. Full stop. To think that this could happen to me even though I’ve done nothing wrong is horrifying. I will never fly United now. I hope other people take this position so the company is forced to reform its ways. I have to disagree with one of your points. From a customer service perspective, it shouldn’t matter if this is United or owned by United or affiliated with United. When United contracts with other airlines to provide service, they bear the costs when something goes awry. That is what happens when you hire someone else to be your agent. United needs to step up here and think critically about the customer experience from beginning to end.

    • Las Vegas Tom says:

      I would expect this on Spirit. Their answers to passengers is usually drop dead. But ground staff screwed up. And absent a security issue the cops never should have been involved. They never should have loaded the plane until this was resolved. I fly frequently between Seattle and Las Vegas on Southwest, and I just never could conceive this on Southwest. It seems Southwest staff are empowered to make all kinds of accommodations for numerous non standard situations, usually making everyone on the full plane happy, not just those affected. I was once on a flight from Seattle to Vegas that was way overbooked and passengers were fighting for the $600, an overnight hotel and an early morning flight.

  117. Timothy Lowell says:

    I think what contributed heavily to this situation was that the flight was only overbooked because four United/United Express employees needed to fly to work on this flight and apparently this was not known until a fairly late stage in the process. I can imagine that the airline personnel were under tremendous duress to get this flight off the ground so that their fellow employees could make it to whatever flights they were working on, and they resorted to extreme measures rather hastily. This episode to me is a good learning experience (not so much of course for the passenger who was dragged off). The airline by law can kick you off at any time before takeoff and the best solution is to negotiate a good exit package. Start at the maximum allowed by law, and then they can counter-offer based on that. I’ll be prepared next time, if there is one.

  118. Richard Stanford says:

    The reports that I’ve seen seem to indicate that:

    1) Offers were not made (much to the reported surprise of some of the passengers)
    2) These seats were for United flight crew

    If true, both of those would seem to make things worse; there are very few times that nobody on board wouldn’t take a free flight coupon and an upgrade (one example that I’ve personally seen) to catch a later flight. Also while I’m sympathetic to crew needing to get somewhere, surely that’s a situation that was eminently perfectible.

    Its also worth remembering that this only came up post boarding – handling it pre-board would have been both more normal and simpler. Denying boarding to someone is different than dragging them out of their seat.

    • Joseph Couture says:

      “Its also worth remembering that this only came up post boarding – handling it pre-board would have been both more normal and simpler.”

      This is the part that continues to floor me – there were some many opportunities to head this off BEFORE everyone got on the plane. I imagine on most flights, you have a good idea if you’re even 1 person overbooked at least 15 minutes before boarding. To not know that you’re committed by 4 passengers after everyone is seated is unfathomable.

      And if the reports are true, that these seats were for airline employees, it shows a screw up of major proportions. Couldn’t the airline have put 1 or more of the employees on another flight? Couldn’t they have called in other contingencies at their destination (I mean, they must do something if an employee calls in sick or is mauled by a bear)?

      Here is the reality: you can now be forcibly, and violently removed, from your seat by the airline for no reason at all. Maybe this isn’t a “new” reality, but for me, I always thought this type of escalation was reserved for someone being drunk, abuse, or otherwise a threat to me, other passengers, or the crew. I guess its important to realize that you’re not booking carriage when you buy a plane ticket – it’s only “best effort”.

      • Jake E says:

        > I guess its important to realize that you’re not booking carriage when you buy a plane ticket – it’s only “best effort”.

        Precisely. Under the prevailing regulatory policy, airline tickets are not indicia of contract, they are the paper equivalent of casino chips, and booking a flight is literally a form of gambling. You might win something but you are more likely to lose – your seat, your luggage, your money, your food, your possessions, or even your teeth. If things aren’t going the way the house likes, a couple of goons will work you over and take you out with the garbage, even if you did nothing wrong. Perhaps this old quote says it best:

        Journalist: “Mr. Gandhi, what do you think about western civilization?”
        Gandhi: “I think it would be a good idea.”

      • C M says:

        The four crew members were supposed to take flight 4448 which was scheduled to leave at 2:55 pm. That flight was experiencing significant mechanical delays and there was a possibility it would be cancelled. For whatever reason, United Airlines waited until 5:21 to reassign them to 3411. (A mere 19 minutes before 3411 was scheduled to leave.)

        There is nothing in the Contract of Carriage which allows them to bump paying passengers for crew members. Rule 25 of the CoC says that an “Oversold Flight” is one where there are more passengers with “valid confirmed tickets” than there are seats available. Deadheading crew members are not passengers with “valid confirmed tickets.” If the plane had not yet boarded and passengers were denied boarding for crew members, United Airlines would probably have gotten away with it. But it would have been 100% illegal to deny passengers with “valid confirmed tickets” for a deadheading crew. Employees are not passengers with “valid confirmed tickets.”