Man dragged off plane, bloody and disoriented, after refusing to give up seat on overbooked flight

Another week, another PR nightmare for United.

Late last month United had a big dust up over some non-rev passengers wearing leggings. Today, it’s even worse. The headline at Washington Post: A man wouldn’t leave an overbooked United flight. So he was dragged off, battered and limp. Alrighty then.

Here’s what they are reporting: a United flight from O’Hare to Louisville was overbooked and United needed space for four employees. From the Post:

“An airline supervisor walked onto the plane and brusquely announced: “We have United employees that need to fly to Louisville tonight. … This flight’s not leaving until four people get off.”

“That rubbed some people the wrong way,” Bridges said.”

When no one volunteered the airline chose people randomly. They chose a young couple who reluctantly complied. Then an older man declined, explaining he was a doctor and had patients to see in the morning. It escalated, with police coming on and forcibly removing the man. They grab him from his window seat and drag him into the aisle, all while he is screaming, “No! No!” As shown in the video, he hit his head on the armrest, which seems to daze him, and they drag him down the aisle, limp, disheveled, with a bloody face.

United employees boarded and sat in the now-empty seats. Soon after, the man ran back on the plane, saying, “I have to get home, I have to get home!” A few more people got off the flight after this happened, including a group of high schoolers whose chaperone said, “They don’t need to see this.” The entire plane was cleared this time, until United employees removed the man a second time: in a stretcher.

I’ll be honest, these videos are hard to watch. It is flat-out appalling that any passenger would be treated that way, but one who hadn’t done anything and wasn’t presenting a threat? That’s….I don’t know. Horrible. I’m not sure what their way forward is, from a PR perspective. Issue immediate apologies, give everyone on the flight vouchers, give the man free travel for a year…. I don’t know.  Ed from Pizza in Motion has a more pragmatic reaction: it’s unfortunate, but once you’re on a plane you don’t have the same rights to argue/debate/discuss, and if they tell you to move, you better move.

Regardless, it’s not a good look for United.

Readers, have you watched the video? Do you have reservation about flying United now?


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  1. “We have United employees that need to fly to Louisville tonight. … This flight’s not leaving until four people get off.”

    they only needed one seat ?

  2. Could also be seen as racist. Why him, because he was Chinese? Why anyone? UA shouldn’t tell people to get off a plane. Enough incentives would have done it.

  3. The video shows that I can’t trust United.
    I can’t trust United to use critical thinking in problem solving
    I can’t trust United in proactively avoiding snafus
    United knew ahead of time that they needed to get staff to KY. Why did they create a last minute crisis?

  4. This whole thing was horrible, but I don’t see it as United’s fault at all. It sounds like they were following standard overbooking procedures – offer money, then resort to IDBs if there aren’t any takers. It sounds like the fault lies with Chicago’s Aviation Authority and their employees, who violently forced the passenger off the plane. I’m not sure why United is taking the fall for this one?

  5. United could have continued to offer more money and someone probably would have come forward. And why didn’t they acknowledge that this man was a doctor who had to get home. COME ON United. SERIOUSLY? I have one last sentence for United: WAS IT WORTH IT??

  6. United has the law on its side, but holy cow they deserve every bit of bad press they get for these things because their judgment just sucks. A doctor has patients to see the next day, and others maybe would have suffered for missing work, but surely on a plane that size there were people who would have been more than happy to take a nice chunk of money and/or flight vouchers. That would have been a drop in the bucket to United to avoid this kind of bad press. But really, “we’re not leaving until 4 people get off the plane”? They have now solidified their reputation as the airline run by assholes.

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