Some defend United's assault of passenger


So, you've likely heard about the United passenger that was forcibly removed from a flight after it was overbooked. Fellow passengers filmed the assault and posted it online.  

Much has been written about it and details are still being clarified. Here's what's been discussed so far: 

  • United overbooked the flight.
  • United allowed passengers to board.
  • United needed to make room on the flight for airline employees. 
  • United began offering incentives to passengers to leave the plane and take a later flight. Some say the incentives stopped at $800. Other sources say it went up to $1000.
  • After no one volunteered to give up their seat, four passengers were asked to leave the plane. Sources are unclear as to how the four passengers were selected. 
  • Three passengers cooperated. One, a physician who said he could not be delayed because of patient obligations, did not.

After watching the video, I felt pretty strongly that United Airlines mishandled the situation. But then, I heard some chatter from folks who thought differently. Here's what they were saying:

1) Just because you're a paying customer who has already been granted a seat on board, doesn't mean United can't change its mind.

Sure, you can get bumped to a later flight when you're sitting at the gate. Yes, the airlines has the right (in the fine print) to deny boarding if the plane is overbooked. However, once a passenger boards the plane, unless they are committing a crime or acting dangerously, they cannot be forcibly removed at the will of the airlines, and especially just because the airlines wants to make room for some of its employees.

2) When a customer on a flight decides to be uncooperative that crosses the line.

"When authorities ask you to leave your seat, you do it, no matter how unfair."

That's the gist of what I heard.

It was usually followed by one of two statements:

"Sure I feel bad for the guy, but he brought it on himself."


"I don't feel bad for the guy at all. He was pitching a fit and not moving. He got what he deserved."  

I guess in order to say this, you have to skip over the fact that the passenger was non-violent and focus on his noncompliance. And though I find this completely insane, I'll play along.

Being uncooperative does not warrant an assault.

Maybe I don't have all the facts? Maybe he was whispering profanities and vehemently sticking his tongue out at the officers? I just think that common sense and reason could have reared its creative head and found a better way to solve the problem.

3) What were they supposed to do?

Could the airlines have found a different way to get their four employees to where they needed to go-- perhaps a different plane? On a different airlines, even? Could the airlines have increased the amount of the incentive it was offering to passengers? Could the airlines have at least made an announcement that they would be forcibly dragging patrons through the aisles if they didn't move? A heads up. Something. Anything.  

4) It was the cops who entered into the altercation with the passenger, not United staff.

"Guys, it wasn't the flight attendants ripping the man from his seat. Yes, the airline employees called security. Yes, airline employees made the judgement call to stop offering incentives to passengers in order to deplane, but the buck stops at the security official." 

Yeah, no. The business policies were driving this entire situation. But, I'm not worried about it. United will be reassessing those. After today, I'm absolutely sure.

5) All airlines overbook. 

I'm not disagreeing. Overbooking may be a tactic used by all the airlines to help keep airfares down and planes full, and admittedly, I'm grateful for that. But listen, I'm just recommending that United beef up it's "Win-Win Chapter" in their Employees Guide to Overbooking Flights. Otherwise, here's hoping that you or I never find ourselves randomly selected on a day when we just can't miss a flight.