This United dragging the passenger of the plane thing

Once the flight was boarded, passengers were told four people needed to give up their seats for stand-by United employees that needed to be in Louisville for a Monday flight and the plane wouldn’t depart until they had volunteers, Bridges said.

Because employees of the airline were flying standby a randomly selected, full fare paying, passenger was beaten up and dragged off the plane.

…and the airline’s CEO on Monday called the incident “an upsetting event to all of us here at United.”

“I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened,” United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement Monday.

You know matey? Fire absolutely every one of your employees involved in this, that would be a good start. Then perhaps yourself.

Sure, we all know, you’ve got to move employees around on the network to get them to where they need to be the next day. But really, sirsly?

71 comments on “This United dragging the passenger of the plane thing

  1. I loved the way the passenger was described as being “refused boarding”.
    To be fair, I don’t think the airline employees did the beating up, I think that was the Chicago cops-and they’ve been doing that for 150 years at least.

  2. What does standby mean in this context I’ve always taken it to mean you can fly if there’s a spare seat, otherwise wait for the next plane. What a way to run a business!

  3. It’s also unusual that United was unable to find passengers willing to give up their seats in exchange for the travel vouchers.

    A lot of people don’t want $800 in travel vouchers: they might come with conditions, they won’t include taxes, whatever. An offer of cold hard cash would have found more takers.

  4. They selected the passenger at ‘random’ using a laptop, how many of the non selected passengers will ever book a ticket with United again knowing that next time it could be them that gets dragged off and beaten up ?

    The CEO has to go.

  5. 400 USD plus hotel to be bumped off a plane at the gate, or 800 USD plus hotel if you’ve already sat down. In travel vouchers ffs! They should offer cash. The stuff Jim Bowen gives you if you lose on BullsEye. But not frigging vouchers.

  6. To be fair, the network problem is really hard. And the addition of stupid rules about how long stewardesses (of both genders) can work, etc make it even harder.

    The 50 cities puzzle is computationally intractable. That IBM computer that beats grandmasters would take 150 billion years to contemplate every move. (So the programmers fudged it a bit.)

    But this is terrible PR. You could hire a light aircraft, book your “guys” on another flight, for 1/1000 of the cost this is for an airline. Even Ryanair wouldn’t pull this stunt.

  7. Quite, BiF.
    The US flight network is enormously complicated, and disruptions are routine due America’s often alarming weather. A bad day can mean thousands of flights cancelled in and out of Chicago. Atlanta is worse.

    How they cope is a mystery. 4 crew stuck seems minor.

  8. Got to love this statement:

    “After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate.”

    Quite, Clovis Sangrail:

    #passengerlivesmatter

  9. > In a statement United airlines told the BBC: “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,” the airline added.

    WTF, he refused to leave voluntarily so they dragged him off? How can a journalist print that without asking how they can make such an abusement of the word ‘voluntarily’?

  10. Why don’t they reserve, say, 4 seats on every flight for staff use. If they aren’t needed for staff then they can be used for real standby passengers. Or is that too simple?

  11. Perhaps they will now offer the victim $1600 in travel vouchers, and if he refuses to accept they will shoot him.

    My guess is that judging by the relatively blasé way UA are treating this the victim cannot sue the airline. Just goes to show another example of legislation brought in to counter terrorist threats exploited just to get an employee to work at little extra cost.

  12. There’s a bit missing from most reporting of this story, which is that the airline has the right to ask you to leave the plane for any reason, and it’s a criminal offence not to comply. The passenger was arrested in his seat and dragged off the plane by airport police, not airline staff.

    Airlines do have to compensate passengers heavily (in cash) if they’ve overbooked a flight and can’t get anyone to leave voluntarily, though. The passengers who were removed would have got ~$1k each in cash, plus hotel costs, plus free flights the next day or alternative travel paid for.

    My relatives in the industry are baffled by this incident. They say it’s never normally a problem because there are always enough people on a flight you can claim are too drunk to fly -.worst case scenario you start handing out free drinks – and this guy looks like he was a prime candidate.

  13. The good news coming from this is that my wife now understands why I went for an extra 8 hours of travel time in order to avoid United when we flew to Florida a few years ago.

    Worst of all in this case is that the destination was only 4 hours drive away. They could have grabbed an Uber and had all 4 crew there in less time and cost than this utter mismanagement has caused. They’ll fob it off by saying that it was a franchise flying the aircraft but, at the end of the day, if it has United on the tail then it is United flying the plane.

    My guess is that the passenger is going to be a very rich man within the next few months.

  14. Rob>

    It has nothing to do with terrorism. Airlines have always had contract terms like those of postal services, where they promise to have a good try at getting you (or your mail) to you (or its) destination some time in the nearish future, in not too many pieces.

    The reason UA aren’t terribly worried by this – it’s embarrassing, though – is that airline tickets are sold on price, price, and then price. Almost no-one’s going to pay even $10 more on a $200 ticket to fly with a competitor.

  15. “They could have grabbed an Uber and had all 4 crew there in less time and cost than this utter mismanagement has caused. ”

    Another myth from the media. The crew’s duty hours limitations would have left other flights grounded.

    “My guess is that the passenger is going to be a very rich man within the next few months.”

    He’s been arrested. He’ll be lucky not to do jail time. He’s probably forfeited his right to compensation from the airline, and he has no grounds to sue the police who removed him from the plane. He’ll be on the no-fly list in future.

    UA may (indeed, do, very much) _look_ bad here, but legally speaking it’s the passenger who’s in the wrong. If the pilot of the plane you’re on tells you to stand on one leg and sing the North Korean national anthem, you are required to comply. If he tells you to get off his plane, you can complain all you like, claim compensation afterwards if it’s merited, but you _will_ get off the plane whether you like it or not.

  16. There’s a bit missing from most reporting of this story, which is that the airline has the right to ask you to leave the plane for any reason, and it’s a criminal offence not to comply.

    Well, that’s fair enough. As long as they can demand paying customers leave for any reason, and can then drag them off the plane, that’s fine.

    Airlines do have to compensate passengers heavily (in cash) if they’ve overbooked a flight and can’t get anyone to leave voluntarily, though.

    They offered $400 in vouchers, then $800.

    They say it’s never normally a problem because there are always enough people on a flight you can claim are too drunk to fly -.worst case scenario you start handing out free drinks – and this guy looks like he was a prime candidate.

    Even better – just lie and slander a paying customer, a doctor no less, and then assault him by dragging him off the plane.

    As long as it’s all above board how can there be a problem?

    In other news, passengers decide not to fly any more to avoid being groped by psychos at the gate or chosen by lot to be beaten up and dragged off a plane they have paid a lot of money to get on. Airlines baffled, demand State subsidy.

  17. He’s been arrested. He’ll be lucky not to do jail time. He’s probably forfeited his right to compensation from the airline, and he has no grounds to sue the police who removed him from the plane. He’ll be on the no-fly list in future.

    That’s a pretty fascistic setup you are describing there.

    As someone has said earlier, the really, really easy solution is to reserve a handful of seats for these staff. If they don’t need them, flog them to passengers on standby.

    Instead its a better solution to sell these seats and then physically drag people off when you need them, just because you can.

  18. The reason UA aren’t terribly worried by this – it’s embarrassing, though – is that airline tickets are sold on price, price, and then price. Almost no-one’s going to pay even $10 more on a $200 ticket to fly with a competitor.

    Even though they have seen that airline beat up paying customers? You reckon?

    Man: Darling, UA are offering a flight for $200
    Wife: Aren’t they the goons who physically dragged that doctor off the flight
    Man: Hey, yeah, but the competitor is $208. No fucking way I’m paying an extra $8. No sir.

  19. The reason UA aren’t terribly worried by this – it’s embarrassing, though – is that airline tickets are sold on price, price, and then price. Almost no-one’s going to pay even $10 more on a $200 ticket to fly with a competitor.

    I’ve paid an extra $1,000, 8 hours travel time, and incurred the wrath of the missus to avoid United; and would do so again in a heart beat. I honestly have no idea why a decent airline like Air New Zealand would run the risk of destroying their brand by partnering with them.

    Airlines do have to compensate passengers heavily (in cash) if they’ve overbooked a flight and can’t get anyone to leave voluntarily, though

    And they didn’t, they offered $400 in limited travel vouchers, increased this to $800 in limited travel vouchers and then decided to forcibly off-load passengers. United broke the rules and, as a result, a 60+ year old doctor is hospitalised, and some unknown number of patients have not been treated. If you are going to forcibly remove someone from a plane that they have every right to be on, then the first thing that you need to do is to be absolutely, 100% certain that you have followed the rules.

    Unfortunately America has gradually become some sort of authoritarian state where anybody in uniform feels that they are automatically above the law and can treat people like the turds that they believe that they are. This is one of those cases where I sincerely hope that America’s fucked up legal system hits United in the pocket as deep as they can possibly go!

  20. Seeing the footage on TV one thing is certain. If I ever get run down by a car, it might be that no-one rushes to help me but it’s certain that everyone will start filming me as I lie bleeding on the road.

  21. 10-4, Rob. I haven’t flown in 7 years. There are places I would like to go and see, but it’s not worth it.

  22. Mercenary magangers. Union guys. Wise guys.
    I would like to just hang out with the pretty girls in uniform.
    Just lounge about in the smoking section.

    I wonder if military flights are still like that.

    Or if anyone speaks English. Probably not even on the train, these days.

  23. “I’ve paid an extra $1,000, 8 hours travel time, and incurred the wrath of the missus to avoid United; and would do so again in a heart beat. ”

    Having flown UA twice I can understand that. The most surly crew I’ve come across and at the time their long haul business class was like being at the back of the plane in BucketAir.com short haul.

  24. The big question is: why was the overbooking not handled at check-in or the boarding gate?

    The compensation amounts are pretty derisory, and certainly not a disincentive to airlines not to overbook. This is demonstrated perfectly by this case, not one person thought that the offered compensation made it worthwhile them voluntarily being bumped. Airlines should be required to offer compensation until the market delivers the required number of volunteer bumpees. It could get quite exciting, if it gets to the stage you think it is worthwhile, do you put your hand up or try to hang on for a few more dollars, risking that someone else puts their hand up?

  25. “Almost no-one’s going to pay even $10 more on a $200 ticket to fly with a competitor.”

    As with Rob, I’d happily pay double not to fly with thee cunts that are easyJet or Ryanair.

    Life is too shirt to deal with those arseholes.

    [Yes I have had a poor consumer experience, although not a beating like this poor bloke took.]

  26. If I was one of the Middle East airlines that has just been stitched up by the US airline oligopoly over the laptop ban I would offer this guy free flights for life, get him on every TV show around the world and totally trash United Airlines. Make it their Gerald Ratner moment.

  27. Why don’t they reserve, say, 4 seats on every flight for staff use. If they aren’t needed for staff then they can be used for real standby passengers. Or is that too simple?

    They always overbook if they can because there is almost always no shows. Those extra tickets sold more than make up for the compensation they occasionally have to pay when they dump passengers off the flight. If they purposely left empty seats we’d be paying for it in ticket prices just to avoid something that is incredibly unlikely to happen to you. I’ve taken hundreds of flights and on the few occasions they’ve been overbooked there’s still only a fraction of a chance you will be forced off (usually someone agrees to be compensated and even if not it’s a tiny chance you get randomly picked).

    Overbooking is in the best interest of both the airline and the passengers in my opinion.

  28. Why does closing HTML tags never work when sent from my phone? Only the first paragraph was supposed to be italic.

  29. The bigger a company is, the more it behaves like the government. See “We’re the phone company, we don’t have to care.” etc.

    Dongguan John,
    Are you typing backslash instead of forward slash?

    Sent from my Huawei T2.

  30. I doubt that the involuntary bumping is entirely random. I’m sure those on the top tier of the airline’s loyalty program would not find themselves being asked to leave the plane in the midst of their complimentary pre-flight blowjob.

    If you are a regular flyer, it does pay to try and be loyal to your preferred airline or fly with their airline partners rather than chopping and changing airlines. Although we won’t fly BA, we otherwise try and stick with Qantas and OneWorld airlines.

  31. No it’s fwd slash but I keep having to change the autocorrect to lowercase.

    Sent from my shit iPhone (should buy Chinese in future!)

  32. It’s a bit of a pain messing with the keyboard, not least with chubby fingers, but works fine with my iPhone.

    As you can see.

  33. I hope he soaks them enough to be able to buy a private jet. $800? What a fucking nugatory sum, especially if it’s in “vouchers”, which will be hedged around with so much small print as to make them worthless. No doubt the airline lobbyists have got enough politicians sucking their cocks as to be able to get away with it, but a law to mandate the Simon auction system, using cash, would stop this sort of shit in its tracks.

  34. Yay!

    I think I did indeed use the wrong slash. Don’t think I can check the page source from a iphone.

  35. Dongguan John,

    You do realise that you can scroll down below the “Post Comment” pressy thingy to see how your comment will appear?

  36. Doc, yeah but sometimes the page doesn’t load properly because China.

    I got it now 🙂

    Cheers.

  37. As others say I doubt he is entitled to any compensation from the airline for his treatment. He refused to get off their aeroplane, they are pretty much entitled to say “Fuck you, get off or Mr surly Chicago Irish cop who’s spent the last 30 years beating the shit out of non-compliant punks is going to drag your ass off this flight”.

    The good news is that Reddit filled half their front page with posts and jokes about the story. Even now they still have ten stories on the front page, some quite amusing.

  38. It is a miracle of the modern age that one can fly anywhere in the world in a matter of hours with no more inconvenience than a minor beating and a couple of random gropes!

  39. BA tried to bump me out of Premium Economy for a long haul flight on the grounds I was not a member of their frequent flyer program. Fortunately I was able to persuade them that my urgent requirement for travelling would make bad publicity for them should they not give me my seat but I will never fly with them again. The cabin crew model themselves on Nurse Racherd, the groundstaff on Hitler.

  40. Ljh,

    BA tried to bump me out of Premium Economy for a long haul flight on the grounds I was not a member of their frequent flyer program.

    What compo did they offer? One would hope it was rather more than the difference in price between economy & premium.

  41. There’s a bit missing from most reporting of this story, which is that the airline has the right to ask you to leave the plane for any reason, and it’s a criminal offence not to comply.

    Similarly, the newspapers covering the arrest of protesters in Moscow rarely point out that they are committing a criminal offence.

  42. Dave,

    “The reason UA aren’t terribly worried by this – it’s embarrassing, though – is that airline tickets are sold on price, price, and then price. Almost no-one’s going to pay even $10 more on a $200 ticket to fly with a competitor.”

    Yes, but what’s the price difference between different competitors for the equivalent flight?

    Let’s say people value this at $5. If United are $199 and someone else is $200, United lose. To win, they have to take $4 off their prices. Maybe there’s still profit there, but how much? How much of their margin are they going to lose?

  43. “the airline has the right to ask you to leave the plane”

    I think you mean the airline has the right to use violence to make you leave your seat after you’ve boarded because they have rubbish systems.

  44. DJ: no compo, just a crappy hotel room and a flight 24 hours later. Fortunately I got to the airport early and the checkin staff thought a pensioner about to go full Violet Elizabeth Bott was not a good idea, so they bumped off another poor sod so I presume some company person could travel with adequate legroom.

  45. @Dave: If the pilot of the plane you’re on tells you to stand on one leg and sing the North Korean national anthem, you are required to comply.

    You’re required to comply with all reasonable demands of aircrew. If the captain tells you to strip and stand in the aisle, you’re entitled to refuse. ‘Reasonable’ would certainly include being told to leave the flight, though.

  46. Lhj,

    Ah I see, I misunderstood, thought they wanted to bump you down to economy for some reason.

    There’s certainly a legal obligation for an airline to offer compo for such a delay but as I understand it they do all they can to avoid letting you know what your rights are while they try to fob you off.

    I had a Virgin Atlantic flight cancelled once. We were all actually on the plane and they pulled us off because, unbelieveably, after fixing a mechanical problem which took a few hours they couldn’t fly because then the flight crew would have worked outside some legal working hours or something. They gave us some money towards our next flights which meant I could fly Upper Class within the company budget, so I was happy with that. (I had also stupidly taken a bunch of sleeping pills before the plane took off so was in no state to argue anyway!). If wasn’t a regular flyer it would have been a useless gesture.

  47. There’s a bit missing from most reporting of this story, which is that the airline has the right to ask you to leave the plane for any reason, and it’s a criminal offence not to comply.

    Oddly, people rarely mention that Rosa Parks was committing a criminal offence as well.

  48. Chris Miller,

    Personally, when I’m sat on a plane awaiting take off in the seat I have paid for, looking forward to getting home, sipping some wine overlooking the Coral Sea, per chance a little welcome home rumpy pumpy from MrsBud, I would regard being asked to vacate my seat and get off the plane the very essence of unreasonableness.

  49. Unless of course the plane was on fire, there was a bomb on board or one of the engines had dropped off, but not so that someone else could sit in my seat.

  50. There seem to be ongoing misunderstandings about the compensation. UA offered voluntary, lower compensation which no-one took them up on. If anyone had, great for United. If no-one did, they had to pick someone to remove from the plane, and then pay the mandated compensation (which is rather more than their early offers, obviously).

    Tim Newman>

    Oh, you are a card. So the entire history of the civil rights movement is of no more value to society than one drunk guy who wouldn’t get off a plane?

  51. There seem to be ongoing misunderstandings about the compensation. UA offered voluntary, lower compensation which no-one took them up on. If anyone had, great for United. If no-one did, they had to pick someone to remove from the plane, and then pay the mandated compensation (which is rather more than their early offers, obviously).

    Sure they probably didn’t break the law. However, kicking a paying customer (who just happens to be a doctor with patients to see) off the plane after he’s already in his seat, just so your tardy staff can get a ride, is a shitty thing to do and it’s great that they have been called out for it.

    Overbooking is a good idea. What UA did isn’t.

  52. The airlines have obtained for themselves the legal power to use the force of the state to get people off airplanes in a situation like this, and yet some people think the solution is to give the state more power.

  53. Similarly, the newspapers covering the arrest of protesters in Moscow rarely point out that they are committing a criminal offence.

    Bravo.

  54. “There’s a bit missing from most reporting of this story, which is that the airline has the right to ask you to leave the plane for any reason, and it’s a criminal offence not to comply.”

    When you start getting down to citing law or contract to resolve YOUR problems, you are doomed as a business.

    It’s really, really simple. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and ask if you’d be happy to get what they got for that price. Not laws and contracts. Did someone get a good deal from you.

    Because a contractually tight bad deal might make you a profit, but you’ll not see that customer again. And you won’t just not see them. They’ll tell their friends that you’re a scumbag and you won’t see their friends, either.

  55. DJ>

    It wasn’t their staff, and they didn’t have a choice. They _had_ to kick some people off the plane. As I said at the start, yes it looks bad, but they’re not actually in the wrong. The passenger was. He was drunk and belligerent, and escalated the situation to the point where instead of hefty compensation he’s going to get a criminal record. It’s not markedly different to the drunks who regularly get kicked off Easyjet flights.

    Arguably the biggest problem here is the false expectation air travellers have of being delivered to their destination on time. A doctor with patients he has to see in the morning shouldn’t be on the last flight of the day unless he has some backup transport which will do the job if needed.

  56. BiW>

    But that’s how every airline ticket works. Everyone in the industry does the same, because if they didn’t they’d be bankrupted by the first storm, breakdown, or staff error.

    There is no airline in the world who wouldn’t have kicked that guy off the flight. Others might have handled the incident better, but whichever way up you look at it he wasn’t flying that evening.

  57. Dave

    They _had_ to kick some people off the plane.

    Err, no they didn’t “have” to. They “chose” to. Their own staff were not “booked” on the flight (they gate crashed, and late) and hence the flight was not overbooked when the paying customers boarded.

    There is no airline in the world who wouldn’t have kicked that guy off the flight.

    I suspect you are wrong again. Other airlines might have made better offers to encourage, which does not result in that guy being kicked off the flight, or they might have tried / made other arrangements.

    Think about it, We don’t regularly get stories of this nature?

  58. Dave,

    Bridges and his wife were waiting at the gate for their flight home to Louisville when United asked for volunteers to take a later flight, offering $400 and a hotel stay. Once passengers boarded, he said United increased the offer to $800, but still no one volunteered.

    Bridges said passengers were then told a computer would select four passengers to leave the aircraft. United said Monday evening it offered as much as $1,000 to passengers who were told to leave the aircraft.

    Wow, nobody interested in voluntarily leaving their seat for $800 but they could be assaulted and forcibly removed for up to $1000. Result: four dissatisfied customers plus bad publicity. If they just kept going in $400 intervals, they’d have got their four volunteers. Seems much fairer to let the customers determine what is reasonable compensation for the inconvenience rather than the airline (or the law) choose a value that not one person on the plane thought worthwhile.

    I see he’s become a drunk guy according to your comment, not according to any story I can find, maybe you’ve confused it with this story:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/glasgow-airport-two-pilots-arrested-for-being-drunk-flight-scotland-to-us-a7214051.html

    I wouldn’t need to be drunk to object strongly to being forced to leave the seat I had paid for, a massive dose of righteous indignation would do it.

  59. Many years ago, 1997 I think, I was booked on a flight from London to Joburg on Virgin Atlantic. At check in, staff came down the line asking for volunteers to be put up in a hotel and fly the next day, in return, they were offering free return flights to any Virgin Atlantic destination in the world. If it wasn’t for the fact that I was only flying for a meeting that I’d have missed, I’d have been sorely tempted.

  60. Dave,

    Whose staff was it then? Why did they have no choice?

    I get overbooking; it makes sense. Kicking paying passengers off to ferry around some staff of yours (or someone else’s??) is shitty customer service. Especially after everyone has boarded and it’s obvious what’s going on.

    Anyway didn’t the guy get let back on the flight in the end?

    Are you in the airline industry by any chance?

  61. Dave,

    “There seem to be ongoing misunderstandings about the compensation. UA offered voluntary, lower compensation which no-one took them up on. If anyone had, great for United. If no-one did, they had to pick someone to remove from the plane, and then pay the mandated compensation (which is rather more than their early offers, obviously).”

    No, they just had to up the rate of compensation.

    Overbooking is a problem of their creation. I get why they do it. It means they sell more seats because generally, around 5% of people don’t turn up, so they make extra money.

    But it is a gamble. Sometimes, those 5% do turn up, and like any gamble, it’s only fair that if you benefit when you win, you also hand over the money with good grace when you lose.

    In this case, the gamble was really bad, as no-one was biting at the lower sums. Again: tough shit. Your problem. You rolled the dice and lost. Do the decent thing and pay up.

    And now it’s going to cost really serious money. What’s it going to cost to get a contract so that he doesn’t appear on Oprah to talk about this some more?

  62. “America has gradually become some sort of authoritarian state where anybody in uniform feels that they are automatically above the law and can treat people like the turds that they believe that they are.” Alas, it seems to be true. No wonder Americans use “aggressive” as a term of praise.

    In addition, however, to the ready resort to violence, this story also reeks of many other defects of character and intellect.

  63. If there are any Chicago airport coppers out there who feel like beating the shit out of Dave –and then charging him with resisting arrest-I am willing to front the $400 for his air travel voucher “compensation”. 🙂

  64. When you start getting down to citing law or contract to resolve YOUR problems, you are doomed as a business.

    The law should and is a matter of last resort. If you’ve reached the point where you’re having to resort to the law to make a buck, you’ve lost the argument and your customers.

    Overbooking is a good solution to capacity management, but as with many of these things game theory applies and there are no genuine solutions, only trade offs.

    The original approach of offering cash in increasing amounts worked well, but over the years the airlines have so gamed the system that people will not take their bullshit “vouchers” at face value.

    If a member of the airline staff was actually wandering up and down the aisle with $800 in cold-hard cash I suspect they would have had more takers.

    Given that United Airlines has already 3% of its value (about $675 million capitalisation), I suspect that the costs of this incident are going to be a lot higher than some bad publicity.

    I’d take odds of four-to-one that the CEO will be forced to resign by the end of the week.

    Seems like it is sacrificial lambing season.

  65. According to a guest on Sean Hannity’s radio show, yesterday, one of the passengers got up and announced “I’ll do it for $1600”, but the flight crew ignored her.

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