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Reuters/John Gress
Seating not guaranteed.
UNFRIENDLY SKIES

United Airlines violently dragged a passenger off an overbooked plane—then apologized for “having to re-accommodate” him

By Svati Kirsten Narula

Several people traveling aboard a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday have shared disturbing video footage of a fellow passenger being pulled off the plane against his will.

United CEO Oscar Munoz issued a statement on Monday, saying: “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.” Last month, industry trade mag PR Week honored Munoz as its “Communicator of the Year.”

According to witnesses and a statement from United, the flight was over capacity, and several seated passengers were told to leave the plane. One man refused, and three security officers then dragged him out through the aisle.

In the video above, the man is seeing being forcibly removed from his window seat and dragged, with his body sagging on the floor, to the front of the plane.

Audra Bridges, a passenger on the flight, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that before boarding the aircraft, United staff had announced the flight was overbooked and asked for just one passenger to voluntarily give up his or her seat in exchange for $400, hotel accommodations in Chicago, and a ticket for a flight to Louisville the next afternoon.

Bridges said that after the announcement, the boarding process continued and passengers took their seats on the airplane. After everyone was seated, the flight crew announced that they were looking for four passengers to give up their seats so that four United employees could travel to Louisville for another flight on Monday morning.

No one volunteered to give up their seats, even as United upped its offer of compensation from $400 to $800 and said that the flight could not take off until the four standby employees had seats. Then, according to Bridges, a manager came onboard and said that four passengers would be selected at random.

When one man was selected and confronted by an airline official, Bridges said he became “very upset,” explaining that he was a doctor who needed to be in Louisville the next day to see hospital patients. When informed that the manager would call security to get him off the plane, he said he would call his lawyer. Three security officers then came on board and physically forced the man out of his seat—slamming his face against an armrest in the process.

The Chicago police department eventually issued a statement describing the security officers as “Aviation Police” and saying the man “fell” on the armrest.

He apparently ran back onto the plane a few minutes later, disoriented and with a bloody nose, attempting to return to his seat and saying “I have to get home.” According to Bridges, this resulted in a two-hour delay.

A United spokesperson confirmed the incident in an email to the Courier-Journal on Sunday, writing:

“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. Further details on the removed customer should be directed to authorities.”

Airlines deliberately overbook flights as a matter of course, to maximize profits, and the US Department of Transportation has some bare-bones guidelines for how customers should be compensated when they need to be bumped off a flight.