United Airlines called the police after a seated passenger declined to leave a flight to Louisville, Ky. Officers violently pulled him from his window seat and then down the aisle as passengers yelled at them to stop. A recording of the incident posted on social media sent people into an apoplectic rage over the carrier’s heavy-handed response.
Videos posted online by other passengers showed a man screaming as officers yanked him from his seat on United Flight 3411 before it departed from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Louisville, Kentucky, on Sunday.
The Department of Transportation said it will review the incident.The incident has prompted one security officer’s suspension and created a publicity nightmare for United.
The man, who appeared to be Asian, was seen being dragged down the aisle on his back by his hands, body limp, bleeding from the mouth, glasses askew and shirt pulled up above his navel.
In its contract of carriage, United Continental Holdings Inc. says it chooses those to be bumped based on a fare class, an itinerary, status in its frequent flyer program, “and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment.”
The incident comes two weeks after United drew social media scorn for enforcing its dress code for those who fly as nonrevenue passengers. A girl flying from Denver was told to change her leggings before boarding. In response, the airline then took efforts to tell “our regular customers” that “leggings are welcome.”
That means those who paid more for a ticket and those who fly the airline frequently are less likely to be selected as an involuntary bump, criteria that are not unique to the Chicago-based carrier.
Volunteers are paid for their seat and booked on another flight. But if there are not enough volunteers, an airline resorts to the involuntary method . And when it goes wrong, it can get very ugly. That’s one reason at least two U.S. airlines-JetBlue Airways Corp. and Virgin America-don’t do it.
United asked passengers to give up their seats voluntarily for compensation. Four crew members needed to get on the flight in order to work another one in Louisville or else that flight would be canceled, airline spokeswoman Maddie King said.
When no one volunteered, the airline was forced into an “involuntary de-boarding situation,” airline spokesman Charlie Hobart said.
United weighs a number of factors to determine which passengers would leave the flight, such as connecting flights and how long the delay will leave the customer at an airport, Hobart said.
United employees explained the situation to the man several times, Hobart said. When he refused they followed Department of Transportation protocol and called local law enforcement to forcibly remove him from the plane.
Passenger Tyler Bridges said the request for volunteers came after everyone had boarded. It was easy to understand why no one responded, it was Sunday night and the next flight was not until the following afternoon, he said.
Bridges said two officers tried to calmly talk the man out of his seat before a third approached him in an aggressive manner. The officer told him he had to get off the plane, and when he resisted, the officer grabbed him out of his seat and carried him out with the other officers.
The man hit his head on an armrest, Bridges said. He yelled that he was a doctor and that he was being profiled for being Chinese. The scene left everyone unsettled, including children who started crying, Bridges said.
“It was pretty shocking that it got to the level that it got to. In part that’s the man’s fault, when the police came on he shouldn’t have resisted, he should have just left. But it was a pretty unbelievable scene with them grabbing him and pulling off,” he said.
“Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right,” CEO Oscar Munoz said.
“I do, however, believe there are lessons we can learn from this experience, and we are taking a close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident.”
Another video shows the distressed man, still disheveled from the wrangle, returned to the cabin, clinging onto a curtain at the back of the plane and repeating: “Just kill me. Kill me,” and “I have to go home,” as blood streaked down his mouth.
Much of the online uproar surrounded the appropriateness of removing a paying customer in order to accommodate airline staff.
Other social media users questioned whether the man would have been removed as forcefully had he not been Asian.