When a flight gets overbooked, it can mean hassles and delayed travel plans. But for one passenger en route from Chicago to Louisville last Sunday, a routine airline overbooking turned violent, as this viral video shows.
The video, posted by Audra D. Bridges at 7:30 p.m. yesterday, shows the cabin on United Flight 3411, which was scheduled to depart Chicago's O'Hare airport, bound for Louisville, Kentucky. In the video, three security officials are seen pulling the passenger from his seat, who screamed during a thrashing physical struggle in the tight cabin. One of the officers then dragged his limp body toward the front of the plane as passengers voiced outrage, with one saying "this is wrong."
Bridges told the Courier-Journal that the altercation started after the flight crew informed passengers that the flight was overbooked and four seats were needed to transport United employees to Louisville. When no passengers volunteered to take another flight, the crew told passengers that a computer would be selecting people at random to disembark. When the man's name was selected, Bridges said, he became angry, saying he was a doctor who needed to see patients Monday morning.
After the altercation and his removal, according to Bridges the man was eventually allowed back on the plane, looking confused, and seemed to have blood on his face. The Courier-Journal reported, "Passengers asked to get off the plane as a medical crew came on to deal with the passenger, she said, and passengers were then told to go back to the gate so that officials could 'tidy up' the plane before taking off."
Overbooking is perfectly legal.
According to the Economist, overbooking is absolutely legal, and airlines are even allowed to discriminate in deciding who to bump. You're more likely to be bumped if you paid a low fare, you're an infrequent traveler, or you're traveling alone.
Overbooking is common because travelers are frequently late and miss flights, which means empty seats. That's why airlines actually predict how many passengers won't show for a given flight and sell tickets to compensate for their anticipated losses (which is key since they often offer free flights to latecomers, as a courtesy).
Many on Twitter found United's response lacking. (The airline did not respond to ATTN:'s request for comment.)
United also released a statement from their CEO via Twitter:
Twitter was quick to criticize the excessive use of force.
Twitter users displayed their contempt for the airline Monday, condemming the violence, referencing other United scandals, and cracking jokes.
In a statement, United denied responsibility for the excessive use of force.
In an email to the Chicago Tribune, United spokesperson Charlie Hobart apologized for the overbooking, but offered no apology for the use of force, saying "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."
In a statement released to the Courier-Journal, a United spokesperson added, "Further details on the removed customer should be directed to authorities."