FOR UPDATES: scroll to the bottom of this post>>
The internet is abuzz with chatter about a United Airlines passenger forcibly removed from a recent Chicago-Louisville flight. The videos posted by passengers onboard (below) are shocking and appalling.
Awful, yes, but here’s the deal: Passengers agree to a “contract of carriage” when buying airline tickets. Included in that contract is the airline’s right to refuse to transport you for any reason. Also included in that contract is the compensation that the government requires airlines pay passengers who are involuntarily bumped.
In a nutshell the airline does not have to pay any compensation if it can get the involuntarily bumped passenger to his/her destination within one hour of the originally scheduled arrival time. If the passenger is more than two hours late, the airline must pay 200% of the one way fare in cash as compensation. If more than four hours late, it must pay 400% of the one way fare.
It’s important to note that government rules kick on only in involuntary bumping situations. Voluntary bumping compensation is determined by the free market.
In an overbooking situation, airlines will typically ask for volunteers, as United did in this case. According to various reports, it first offered $400 to volunteers, then increased it to $800 plus pay for an overnight hotel stay, with no takers. (It appears that this was the last flight of the day between Chicago and Louisville.)
Usually this negotiation is done before the plane boards, but it appears that in this case, United boarded the plane and THEN decided to seek volunteers. When it could not find them, even at $800 + hotel, it randomly chose four passengers to be involuntarily bumped off the plane.
One of those passengers refused to get off, and here’s what happened
This video below was taken by another passenger- somehow, the passenger who was removed got back on the plane mumbling “just kill me just kill me”:
— Kaylyn Davis (@kaylyn_davis) April 10, 2017
According to various reports, United needed the seats to transport a crew to Louisville for a Monday morning flight. When one passenger refused the captain’s orders to get off, the airline called in local police to do the dirty work.
At first, United released only the following statement: “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.”
After this incident lit up the internet, United CEO Oscar Munoz released a broader statement:
Here is more information about the flight from The Louisville Courier Journal
My take: As abhorrent and sickening as this video is, passengers should know what they agree to when buying an airline tickets, including the possibility of getting bumped. They also should know that when onboard a plane, the captain has the final word– his or her word is the law. If he or she tells you to get off the plane, you obey.
Could the airline crew members have handled this differently? The police? The passenger? United’s PR department? I say yes to all these questions. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out as we get more details about exactly what happened. We’ll provide updates to this post (or future posts) as they roll in… stay tuned!
What do you think? Please leave your comments below.
UPDATES Tuesday April 11:
>Airplanes are dictatorships (Wall Street Journal)
>United: Flight was “sold out” not “overbooked (USA Today)
>United stock took a tumble early Tuesday, but is creeping back up in early afternoon trading (monitor here):
>Details emerge in Louisville about the doctor removed from the United flight –
David Dao, passenger removed from United flight, a doctor with troubled past (Louisville Post Courier)
Updates: April 10:
Chicago Police statement regarding the incident:
Chicago Department of Aviation statement:
Even though it’s a PR disaster, this debacle does not appear to be a financial one- United stock closed up for the day:
United CEO Oscar Munoz letter to employees regarding the incident:
United CEO Oscar Munoz sent this letter to staff: “While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you.” pic.twitter.com/gq6L7fFX2V
— Jon Ostrower (@jonostrower) April 10, 2017