United Airlines under fire after passenger dragged off plane

CHICAGO (KTVU/AP) -- A video showing a United Airlines passenger forcibly removed from a plane is raising questions about whether passengers have any rights when it comes to being bumped from flights.

Several passengers on United flight 3411 Sunday evening took cell phone video showing the passenger being forced off a United airlines flight that was leaving Chicago's O'Hare airport for Louisville. The video captures the sound of people yelling as an airport securitiy officer forcibly pulls a man from his window seat and proceeds to drag him down the aisle. The passenger has blood on his face.

"It's outrageous, I think to pull a person off a flight when they had a good reason they didn't want to get off a flight," said a United passenger Colin Douglas who was traveling through San Francisco's United terminal and had seen the video.

Passengers say United needed to put four crew members on the flight and first offered $400 vouchers for people to give up their seats, then raised it to $800 and a hotel room. But when nobody took the offer they randomly chose 4 passengers. One man said he was a doctor and refused to leave, saying he had to attend to patients in the morning.

"Not everyone has the flexibilty when they're flying to take the next flight. Some people really have to be on the flight they selected and they chose," said Mike Kovanis of Santa Rosa who says airlines should stop overbooking flights.

UC Berkeley Professor Severin Borenstein of the Haas Business School helped draft the first compensation rule In 1979.

"Once an airline sells you a ticket, they are required to either fly you on that flight or pay you compensation," said Borenstein, "They can pay as little as they want if they can get people to take it, but if it goes up as high as $1350 then they can instead involuntarily tell people to get on a different flight."

United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement, "I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened."

Later in a letter to employees the CEO Munoz called the passenger "disruptive and belligerent."

Some passengers say it has damaged United's reputation.

"To handle overbooking as an airline you should be a lot more accountable. They shoudl have continued to raise the offering until someone was willing to come off," said Caryl Yuhas, a Newark United passenger who flew into SFO.

Professor Borenstein says this is an unusual case, legally, for many reasons. Usually, flight crews will ask for volunteers before passengers board, not after. Also, the flight was being operated by one of United Airline's affiliate airlines under the United colors, so the crew might not have felt empowered to make decisions about higher compensation. Borenstein also says the airline was bumping people for it's own crew members not paying passengers, so technically it was not overbooked, That makes it unclear, he says whether legally, the airline is allowed to bump people off the flight.

The man reportedly boarded the plane a second time, but was taken off the flight and taken away on a stretcher. 

Do you know your fly rights? Transportation.gov has compiled a guide 

 

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