United Drags Doctor off Plane for Refusing to Give up Seat

United’s now facing yet another PR disaster but “leggings gate” can’t hold a candle to this one. Here are the facts as I understand them to be as of this morning and here’s a video (a bit disturbing) of the situation and another angle as well.

Yesterday, United “overbooked” Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville and needed seats to transport four Untied employees so that they could be in Kentucky in time for their flights the next day. The overbooking was not announced until passengers had been seated on the plane, as far as I know.

According to a passenger on the plane, United offered passengers $400 and a free night in a hotel to take a flight the next day at 3 p.m. but nobody bit. United then offered to pay passengers $800 but apparently not enough passengers went for this offer either.

So then United resorted to using a computer to randomly select passengers to de-plane. According to one report, a couple was first selected and they stepped off the plane. Then, an older man, who also happens to be a physician, was asked to give up his seat (along with his wife). He refused to leave the plane (definitely a mistake) and reportedly reiterated that he had patients to see at his hospital in the morning. After his refusal, three security personnel were brought in, two were uniformed airport law enforcement officers and one looks like he was maybe an air marshal.

They then moved in to forcibly remove the doctor. You can hear screams and horror in not only the doctor’s voice but also in the passengers as they watch this disaster unfold. It looks like the doctor may have even been knocked unconscious as the authorities yank him out of his seat and send him face first into an arm rest, busting his lip. The doctor, who again is an older man, is then drug, yes literally drug down the aisle out of the plane in humiliating fashion, as other passengers are appalled by the disturbing sight.

It looks like the doctor may have been let back on the plane as other video shows him staggering through the aisle obviously dazed by the trauma he just experienced. Reports state that he was allowed to re-board flight 3411 but it’s unclear if he was physically able to take the flight due to his injured state.

United gave an official response to the situation stating:

“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.”

This scene is absolutely reprehensible.

First, United dropped the ball by not properly handling its overbooking. I’ve been involved in overbooking situations in multiple instances but these are typically resolved prior to boarding in my experience. Even so, United should have made it a priority to offer a proper incentive to get people to volunteer off the plane. I’m not sure how attractive $800 is to a physician who needs to get back home to treat patients in the morning….

And how about handling these things on a case-by-case basis. Sure the computer can designate a potential passenger to be singled out but then why not try to negotiate one-on-one with the passenger and get a feel for how vital it is for them to board this flight? They only needed to boot a couple of passengers, so this wouldn’t have taken that long.

Also, I want to know what policy/protocol was being followed here. I’ll admit, if I was asked to get off the plane due to overbooking, I’d be pissed off but I would comply, since I don’t think an airplane is the place to defy authority. But even considering the fact that this passenger was being defiant (and thus asking for trouble), I can’t see why the use of force, or more accurately that level of force, would be necessary in this situation.

I understand you’ve got to get people off the plane in some way but throwing someone out of their seat face first into a metal arm rest?

It’s not like the guy was being kicked off the plane for being belligerent. He was just a doctor trying to make sure he’d be able to meet his patients’ needs in the morning. It’s like someone at United just flipped a switch and these officers/security personnel went into “Hulk smash” mode to apply force regardless of whether or not it was warranted.

In any event, this looks like it’s going to be 10X the media sh*t storm that leggings gate was. And United will likely pass the blame on to the officers involved but I think someone at United was in the position to avoid this situation, I’m just not sure how far up the chain of command they were. I’ll wait to arrive at judgment on the culpability of United versus the law officers involved here, but this is a very ugly situation for all involved.