Passenger hauled off a United flight in Chicago

In order to accommodate crew members who needed to be in Louisville for another flight, United Airlines forcibly removed a passenger from a flight at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Sunday, resulting in a social media outcry that caused United’s stock to tumble and the CEO to issue a lame apology, the New York Times reports.

While cases like this will undoubtedly play out in courts of law, the ramifications of this one in particular will be studied for years by business students at universities and even in high schools around the world.

A doctor, David Dao, had boarded a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, when a call was made for passengers to give up their seats voluntarily. The airline needed four seats for a flight crew who needed to be in Louisville for another flight. Three people voluntarily gave up their seats and were given compensation. But a fourth seat was still needed.

Then, according to news reports, Dr Dao’s name was chosen at random and he was asked to get off the plane, which he refused to do. United Airlines officials or representatives then had at least one agent who was wearing blue jeans drag Dr Dao off the plane, over his objections. (He had to get home to see patients the next day.) The removal was recorded on a smartphone and posted on social media. It is disturbing to watch, as it is violent in nature.

Note that United’s own contract of carriage gives the company the right, supported by federal law, to remove people from an airplane for a long list of reasons, including unruly behavior, drunkenness, and the inability to fit into a seat. However, once a passenger boards a plane and is seated, he can’t be removed involuntarily just to accommodate a crew. The airline’s own rules and federal law require that such passengers be denied boarding, and the evidence here shows that Dr Dao had already boarded the aircraft.


United’s Boeing 777-222/ER from O’Hare on final approach to Hong Kong (Christian Junker/Flickr CC)

“No one should ever be mistreated this way,” the Times quoted Oscar Munoz, the company’s chief executive, as saying in a statement.

The options for better ways United might have taken its crew to Louisville are too numerous to list, but the minds of those running the show at the corporation appear to be so small that they could not see these other options. Many of those options would have reduced the nightmarish quality of this incident, but every one of those options escaped United officials at O’Hare on Sunday. Police brutality, thy name is now United.

About the Author

Paul Katula

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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