Passenger dragged off a flight You may have heard about the disturbing incident last night in which a passenger was violently dragged off a United Express flight (flight 3411 operated by Republic Airways). My buddy Gary Leff wrote up a good post on what happened.

There’s a lot to digest here, including the fact that a subsequent flight would have been cancelled if the four crew members had not been allowed to fly. But today’s tip is about how to avoid finding yourself in this situation.

I don’t know all the details, but usually when your flight is overbooked and there are no volunteers willing to give up their seats, the gate agents deny boarding to those who were the last to check in, paid the least or have no frequent flyer status. That’s why it’s always important to check in early for your flight and/or be loyal to one airline/alliance.

According to United’s Contract of Carriage under Boarding Priorities:

“If a flight is Oversold, no one may be denied boarding against his/her will until UA or other carrier personnel first ask for volunteers who will give up their reservations willingly in exchange for compensation as determined by UA. If there are not enough volunteers, other Passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with UA’s boarding priority:

  1. Passengers who are Qualified Individuals with Disabilities, unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 years, or minors between the ages of 5 to 15 years who use the unaccompanied minor service, will be the last to be involuntarily denied boarding if it is determined by UA that such denial would constitute a hardship.
  2. The priority of all other confirmed passengers may be determined based on a passenger’s fare class, itinerary, status of frequent flyer program membership, and the time in which the passenger presents him/herself for check-in without advanced seat assignment.”

Regardless, there’s absolutely no question that United and Republic Airways should have handled this differently and the passenger is owed more than an apology. The video was really disturbing and no passenger should ever find themselves in this situation.



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22 Comments On "How to Not Get Dragged Off a United Plane"
  1. jeff|

    Hmmmm, not sure they can do that after a person boards and takes a seat. That seems very, very wrong. That should be done at the gate during boarding. I switched to a smaller better airline after too many problems with AA, who in my opinion, enjoyed and abused rules more to excuse actions resulting from unhealthy finances, rather than the reasons the rules were derived in the first place.
    They need 4 spots for attendants? really? that is the only way to make the flight the next day fly? Right….slow clap

  2. Paul Keyes|

    Sorry, Johnny, but your logic is a bit mixed up. You quoted rules that pertain to being denied boarding, but the passenger in question was already allowed to board and was seated, after which the Gestapo came in and dragged him out. This happened to me once except that I walked rather than being dragged. The airline didn’t offer me even as much as an apology although they did give me a refund. Now they are out of business and I don’t wonder why.

  3. Theresa|

    I also wonder if a pax has booked his flight through an OTA or other third party booking site rather than the airline directly, if they move to the bottom of the list and might be the first to get booted. I always book directly with the airline. Your thoughts?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Good question. I don’t think that mattered but you never know.

  4. BArbara coughlin|

    The fact that the airline knew they had to transport 4 staff members points to their poor planning. Those 4 seats should have been withdrawn from the inventory available for sale. Secondly, you don’t wait until passengers are ON the plane to ask for volunteers. Third, the airline needed to keep offering more compensation ( esp as their rebooking offer was the next AFTERNOON). If they’d gone high enough, they could have gotten volunteers.

    At any rate, screaming, calling the police and physical violence were out of line. United and its partners plus O’Hare and its police all got a well-deserved black eye out of this one. Oscar Munoz and Rahm Emmanuel should be on their knees in public vowing it will never happen again.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      Agreed. They should’ve gone higher

  5. Anna|

    the best way to avoid this is never to book with United

  6. Charlie|

    IO can’t believe how many travel bloggers I’ve seen come out and say something along the lines of “well, it sucks but it’s in the contract of carriage.” BULL! It wasn’t an “overbooking.” It was Republic and/or United Flight Ops/Scheduling screwing up. There’s NO WAY THEY DID NOT KNOW THEY NEEDED CREW IN LOUISVILLE THE NEXT MORNING. They knew at least five days in advance. That passenger was criminally assaulted and if Oscar Munoz can’t run his damn airline, he should terminate his own employment.

  7. Rich|

    United escalated it based on their “protocol” and once the police are involved your rolling the dice on how good or bad of a day the responding officer is having. I support law enforcement and know they have their hands tied to do a very tough job. But they are not in the customer service business. They are in the follow the law business. United staff handled this based on the culture Oscar Munoz has created. This falls on his lap. There is no lesson for zunited to learn as their culture is deep. You just have to make them pay! Time for this guy to lawyer up! And I am sure there are cream of the crop attorneys already tryiing to track this guy down. Sue them hard and hit those deep pockets! United and the City of Chicago to pine to pay up!

  8. OC Domer|

    They could have offered $1,000 and a hotel room (or more if necessary) to get the volunteers they wanted. Still would’ve been a lot cheaper than the coming lawsuit is going to be.

  9. SLM|

    I don’t need to know how to book better or check in better. I need to know who is going to treat me as a consumer fairly. I will try to avoid UN from now on and they absolutely need to change their policy, change the way they book, offer more incentives and take the frickin loss if they have to but in no way, shape, or form, should this type of behavior be allowed to continue. This looks like UN is being managed by a 3rd world country. I hope the man gets he lawyer and sues the wings off them.

  10. Miranda Corcoran|

    Not only does the passenger that was assaulted need serious compensation, but I think every passenger witnessing this horrendous, felonious excercise of power deserves some compensation. How traumatic to watch and hear these goings on! Were ther children on the plane? I never fly United anymore due to similar kinds of treatment.

  11. Mike|

    I feel like if you act like a child, you are going to be treated as such. Being dragged off the flight was the choice that passenger made. Also, I didn’t see anyone in the video who was so empathetic that they jumped up and said, “Take me instead!” They all won the lottery, and they were just fine staying put. I feel bad the man was injured, but he made his choice. Life throws things at you sometimes, and this is an example of how not to respond. I’m not holding the airline completely blameless, as I feel a better plan must exist for such circumstances, but I lay much of what followed on the individual.

  12. Anthony|

    American airlines in general flying domestically have gone to crap the last ten years or so. (I exclude Hawaiian Air which seems to be still ok.) United Airlines has now moved to the bottom of my list for airlines to choose to fly domestically. I will pay more to fly than to support this kind of behavior. NOTHING justifies this behavior on the part of an airline. Chicago? It has a well deserved reputation for having more murders per capita than anyplace in US.

  13. James Thorn|

    Is this the same CEO that was in charge of United Airlines in 2009. Remember the United Breaks Guitars incident.

    1. Charlie|

      Six months after Dave Carroll’s Taylor was broken, a musician friend of mine in Nashville had his Taylor’s neck snapped on United too. I guess the takeaway is, “if it ends in ‘r,’ United’s going to break it.”

  14. Ty|

    I find several things disturbing about this incident:
    1) Chicago police tactics and brutality
    2) The passenger in question first palyed the race card, then segued 180 degrees into prividledged status as a doctor. I cant tell if I’m more disturbed by the irony or the complete lack of awareness by 99% of those offended by this incident that that man felt he was both oppressed and more prividleged than the rest of the passengers on that flight.
    3) Everyone on the plane apparently knew he was a doctor yet didn’t seem concerned enough to offer up their own seats instead
    4) those same people felt video taping the incident to later post to social media was more important than stepping into the same situation to defend the man they felt was egregiously being abused. Makes one wonder what they would do in other or even more morally corrupt circumstances as well.They should all be ashamed beyond pale. At least a few made national news.

  15. Rob|

    To just say “I am going to boycott UA” is almost silly to me. I think of it as a learning moment for UA and I’m willing to give them a chance to correct it. If it happened repeatedly and wasn’t just an isolated incident, that would be an entirely different story.

  16. Charles Bingham|

    IF you pay for your seat when you boot, then why do the airlines overbook?The seats have been paid for and if you don’t show they are still paid. What am I missing?

  17. Debra Bokur|

    The bigger issue is the way it was handled, and when force should be used – or even when a flight attendant should be allowed to touch a passenger. I had a Delta experience that left me with finger tip bruises on my upper arm from a flight attendant who then deliberately removed his name tag so I couldn’t identify him by name. He grabbed my arm and shook me violently after I had already alerted him personally that I would be taking a prescription sleeping pill and did not want dinner service on my overnight flight to the Czech Republic. Despite this, he tried to forcibly wake me from a medicated sleep to – and I quote – check in with me to make sure I hadn’t changed my mind about dinner. After tweeting pictures of my bruised arm and contacting Delta’s customer service multiple times, I got an email apology about being woken from sleep (really) and an offer of a $25 travel voucher good toward another flight. There needs to be policy in place that specifies an airline representative NOT touching you unless it’s to save your life.

  18. L Wolf|

    General rule of survival: when police ask you to do something (go, stop, show your hands) you should do it. Right and wrong can be sorted out later, resisting a police officer is always a bad idea.

  19. Cecil Jones|

    You never resist a policeman when he is carrying out his sworn duty to uphold the law. The police will not ask but will direct you to follow their instructions. If you do not comply they will simply increase the force till you do comply up to and including physical violence.

    The police are not the judge who is the one you complain to after you quietly leave the plane.

    Although the passenger caused his injuries some of the other issues brought up in the various posted comments are valid, but most deal with before the police confronted the passenger. Once the police are in front of you . . .FOLLOW THEIR INSTRUCTIONS AND COMPLAIN TO THE JUDGE LATER . . . PERIOD!!!

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