The dust has barely settled on the leggings controversy, and United Airlines finds itself at the center of another story that’s going viral. Video posted on Facebook shows a man being dragged from a plane by security officers.
The incident occurred on Sunday evening at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) on a plane bound for Louisville International Airport (SDF). The passenger who posted the video told the news media that after all passengers were allowed on board and seated, a manager came aboard the plane and said the flight was overbooked and asked for four people to give up their seats for four United employees who were needed in Louisville on Monday. United offered $400 and a hotel room in Chicago, then increased the offer to $800.
When no one volunteered, the manager told travelers that four passengers would be randomly selected and asked to depart the plane. A man who was selected refused to leave the plane and said he was a doctor who needed to see patients on Monday morning at a Louisville hospital. Three security officers then boarded the plane and forcibly removed the doctor from his seat and dragged him down the aisle, while other passengers scream at them to stop. In the video, you can see the doctor’s face being slammed against an arm rest, causing his body to go limp.
The passenger who posted the video said the doctor was able to get back on the plane, and he appeared disoriented and his face bloody. All passengers were asked to go to the gate so United could “tidy up” the plane, and the flight was ultimately delayed two hours.
United has released the following statement about the incident: “Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation. Further details on the removed customer should be directed to authorities.”
United is wrong. This flight was not overbooked. The seated passengers were paying travelers who had assigned seats, and the four “overbooked” passengers were United employees flying standby so they could work the next day. United chose to drag a paying passenger off the plane instead of inconveniencing its employees. Both the airline and the security officers involved should be ashamed for abusing a passenger.
Overbooking is a common occurrence in commercial air travel that passengers agree to when they purchase a ticket. And the airlines do have valid reasons for asking seated passengers to leave the plane: The passenger may be acting unruly, the plane could be overweight, a seat could be broken, or two people may have been inadvertently assigned the same seat. It should also be noted that passengers must always comply with airline personnel or airport security officers.
But United could have prevented this situation from turning ugly in a number of ways: bump passengers from the flight before letting them board the plane, continue to increase the offer for giving up a seat, or rebook its employees on another flight.
United caused a previous uproar in March when one of its gate agents refused to let two teenage girls board their flight because they were wearing leggings. The story was widely shared on social media, and some celebrities chided the airline for what they viewed as a sexist policy. Even Delta tweeted: “Flying Delta means comfort. (That means you can wear your leggings.)” It turns out that the girls were traveling on unpaid employee passes, which have strict dress codes that don’t apply to paying passengers. But the PR damage was already done.