Recapping the United Airlines Overbooking Situation
So you all know what happened to United this past week, if you don’t, read about that here. Overbooking is common place today. Now, let’s explore how you they could have prevented this situation and what your rights are as an airline passenger.
What Happened on United & Why it Shouldn’t Have Happened
Monday April 10th, a doctor was forcibly removed from his United flight after refusing to give up his seat due to overbooking. United boarded all passengers on the plane, then realized they needed to make room for four United employees. Sources say they started offering compensation in hopes to get some volunteers. The compensation eventually reached up to $1,000 per ticket; however, nobody volunteered. Staff then said they would pick four people at random and involuntarily deboard them.
United first chose a couple, both of which deboarded without confrontation. They then chose the doctor. He refused to give up his seat stating that he had to get to Louisville to see patients and would not get off the plane. United crew then called local law enforcement who forcibly removed him, blooding his face, and leaving the man in a frenzied emotional state.
Where Does the Blame Fall Here?
There are three avenues of blame here. United, law enforcement, or the passenger. After evaluating this situation, I can safely place blame on all three parties at hand.
United, to my knowledge, did not follow proper procedures. For one, FAA regulations require they offer up to 400% compensation for passengers involuntarily boarded. 400% would have been required if they were delayed all night, which they would have in this case. It does not appear they offered this passenger his 400% before calling law enforcement. Secondly, United much present the passenger his rights in writing. It does not appear that they did so. Finally, United boarded the passenger. The airline is allowed to deny boarding; however, I am not sure they are allowed to force a passenger to deplane after boarding.
Local law enforcement really went muscle mode really quickly. It’s difficult to see how much the situation unfolded before the video starts, so it’s difficult to jump on the police officers too much. I would hope to see a better deescalation before blooding the guy’s face and knocking him unconscious.
Finally, passengers must obey flight attendants 100% of the time. This is not something you should do… it’s a law. When the flight attendants asked the man to give up his seat, he is immediately breaking the law by not obeying that request. The proper thing to do would be to deboard the plane, try to work things over with the gate agents, and then call your attorney after that. While it’s unfortunate he was publicly humiliated, he’s fortunate he didn’t end up in jail for the night.
Preventing This in the Future
Numerous things could have prevented this from happening. First, staff should have really pressed that 400% flight cost. I find it very difficult to believe absolutely nobody would have taken them up on it had they actually been aware. At time of writing a United ORD-SDF costs about $250. 400% of that would have been the $1,000 they offered up. If all efforts were exhausted, they could have offered up a little more. 400% is what’s required at minimal, why not let the bidding process continue?
A manager should have spoke with the passenger and better explained the situation. By all accounts we have heard, this was never done. The time from involuntarily bumping to police was ridiculously quick. A manager give the passenger his rights in writing, the 400% voucher, a hotel room, and a sincere apology may have been enough to deescalate the situation.
The CEO’s response was brutal. While he did apologize, he apologized the passengers were further delayed. Not about the situation that unfolded. At least say something along the lines of “United is committed to all passenger’s rights on every flight. We exhausted all efforts to come to an agreement with this passenger in particular; however, we will continue to investigate the situation to see where we can improve customer relations moving forward.” That doesn’t even admit blame, but it does address the problem at hand.
Know Your Passenger Rights
As a passenger, you have rights. I wrote an article for LoopholeTravel just a couple months ago that covers the three things everybody should know before accepting a flight. Because you agree to these terms when you purchase a ticket. You can check out that entire article here. The short of it is that airlines must be up front about all fares. They can’t hide taxes, fees, and other charges on your ticket. They must offer you 400% of your ticket value if you are delayed more than two hours after your original time. Finally, they must present you these rights in writing.
Most importantly, when airline staff ask you to do something… do it. Be firm on your stance, but you should always do as your asked. If this video didn’t go viral, this guy could have easily ended up in jail for failing to comply to an airline employee. United takes most of the blame here, but there is plenty of blame to go around.