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A man wouldn’t leave an overbooked United flight, so he was dragged off (washingtonpost.com)
479 points by dankohn1 on Apr 10, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 524 comments



The real thing to fear here is the normalization of violence.

Good perspective in the WP comments:

"The truly shocking thing here is that violence - with the real possibility of serious injury - was viewed as appropriate in a situation that was purely logistical. The airline wanted seats for its own employees. This was not an emergency - such as a terrorist attack or a drunk passenger endangering people. The lack of judgment is stunning. There is no way that violence was justified."


You should read "Debt the First 5,000 Years". It's an amazing book, and one of the things the author talks about is how debt requires violence.

You can't put a man into debt unless you have the capacity for violence to enforce it. He doesn't pay you back, you break his legs, or take his sons and daughters as slaves. Today we have reduced the violence. Now companies ruin credit, get a Sheriff to evict someone from a house foreclosure, harass you with phone calls .. it's a less violence but it's still a form of it.

This violence is also the origin of money (and debt). A conqueror takes a country. That leader needs to pay his army (they are expensive). So you take the area you took and they can only pay taxes with coins; your coins specifically. Only soldiers have those coins, so you leave a garrison that gets paid from the debt you put the people in.

Before the US destroyed Libya, it had the highest GDP in Africa and no debt to the WMF. Today, the "rebels" the US imported are now in debt to the WMF and the people no longer have free electricity or education.


> debt requires violence

Any kind of property requires violence to exist. If I say "this is my land" and you disagree, the only way I can enforce my claim is through violence. Debt is just a specific case of a general phenomenon. (This applies to communal property, too.)

> Before the US destroyed Libya, it had the highest GDP in Africa

Do you have a source for this? I see Libya's GDP circa 2005 at $41 billion (in 2005 U.S. dollars) [1]. South Africa's 2005 GDP was $260 billion in current U.S. dollars [2] (bit over $200 billion in 2005 U.S. dollars [3]).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Libya

[2] http://data.worldbank.org/country/south-africa

[3] http://www.usinflationcalculator.com



You are correct in Libya having the highest African GDP per capita before 2011 [1]. Granted, Libya's economy is more similar to its oil-producing peers in the Middle East and North Africa.

The debt motive for the invasion makes little sense. American banks made more money on Ghadaffi's Libya [2].

[1] http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD?locations...

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/14/business/dealbook/libyan-...


As context, that website is said to be a proponent of conspiracy theories (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Chossudovsky#Centre_for...)


Property is theft already if you believe Proudhon.


And why should I believe Proudhon?


Maybe per person


But then debt and better money management and institutes has created the most peaceful and less violent societies in the world.

In "original" societies it is not abnormal for 50% of males to die violent deads. In our societies it is less than 2% as far as i remember. Including two world wars!

So the violence of debt is not that relevant in the big picture.


Did they create peace, or do they export violence?


I can think of quite a lot of forms of debt that don't require violence unless you define violence very differently from the dictionary "behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something."

You borrow £20 from your friends, if you don't pay there is moaning but not usually more. You borrow £100k for a mortgage and don't pay and they may change the locks and put someone else in your house but don't usually hit you.

The United violence has nothing to do with debt.



Yes, that's the one.


They're not just normalizing violence, they're routinely using state power as an agent of the corporation to resolve issues that don't involve criminal activity.

This is an internal business matter for a private company, and United had several alternatives.

United didn't have to overbook the flight in the first place.

United could have accommodated their additional crew on a competing airline or private plane.

United could have offered more compensation to volunteers to leave the flight.

There is absolutely no reason for a taxpayer-funded police force to intervene in this private matter. The passenger violated no laws.


Actually the passenger did violate laws by refusing to leave when he was asked by a part who had the right to ask and the Police. He became a trespasser and can be removed by force if necessary.


I agree.

I will point out that it is not United that "chose" violence. They asked the police to intervene. The state is supposed to have a monopoly on physical force, so they did.

Now, for the police, violence has always been normal, or normalized.

Consider the appropriate responses:

1. An airline should not call in the police when dealing with customers because they can reasonably expect violence.

2. The police should be retrained not to use violence. (Is this reasonable? You can imagine other instances where this where this would endanger them.)

3. As a society, we should not let police deal with "civil" situations where violence might occur. Perhaps we need another "force"?

And so on.

edit: clarity of last point


> The police should be retrained not to use violence. (Is this reasonable? You can imagine other instances where this where this would endanger them.)

That is absolutely reasonable. In many countries, police are trained to de-escalate potentially hostile situations. Only in the US and probably a couple of police states are police officers required to escalate to violence.

And it's that tendency to escalate to violence that makes police a threat to society.


> In many countries, police are trained to de-escalate potentially hostile situations. Only in the US and probably a couple of police states are police officers required to escalate to violence.

It's not that simple. The police in the US are trained to de-escalate situations too. That doesn't stop police violence from occurring either in the US or elsewhere (there is no shortage of horrific stories of police abuse from western/central Europe as well, for example).


> The police in the US are trained to de-escalate situations too.

Are you sure? I've never heard of it. I have heard of a police officer who was fired for de-escalating a situation through his training as a marine.

Maybe some police department do train their officers to de-escalate, but it's very clear that many don't. In fact, many US police officers are overly eager to de-escalate.

> That doesn't stop police violence from occurring either in the US or elsewhere (there is no shortage of horrific stories of police abuse from western/central Europe as well, for example).

Compared to the US, there is absolutely a shortage of stories about police abuse in western/central Europe. Yes, it happens, but not on that scale, and the kind of police violence that Americans have come to accept as normal is not considered acceptable in most of Europe.


Here in New Zealand, the police absolutely are trained to de-escalate situations. There are times when it's not possible, but every interaction I've had with the police here they've been amazing. Polite but they're still in control and authoritative. I can't speak more highly of the New Zealand police. That said we have strict gun control and most of the time they don't have to deal with offenders with firearms. If they do, they call out the Armed offenders Squad, at that point the gloves are off.


> I've never heard of it.

Wonder why. Because it's not newsworthy.


>The police in the US are trained to de-escalate situations too.

Sure, but practically speaking if you have a realistic understanding of how most US police forces operate, you know that involving them in any kind of dispute greatly increases the chance of violence and harm for all involved. YMMV per locality and situation, but it's a pretty sensible rule of thumb that police involvement equals increased risk of violence, even in previously nonviolent conflicts.

Which is sad and unnecessary. I think it directly results from the prevalence of "warrior mentality" in US police training and operations. They are trained to view all citizens as potential enemy combatants to be dominated, rather than innocents to be protected; they are trained to put the safety of themselves and other officers above the safety of the citizenry; and they are trained to, if not always escalate, certainly to err on the side of escalation if there is any hint of violent action or ill intent from the citizens they interact with.


That's probably because there is a not-unreasonable expectation that the situations the police are called out for will involve deadly weapons.

Obviously not the case here, but in general, when anyone could realistically be carrying a gun, I don't think the current situation is a big surprise.


Right... because a doctor on a plane in the US has some semblance of a chance of carrying a deadly weapon...

This is kinda the point of OP, police violence has become so common-place that we take it as normal happenstance when it's used. There's an air of expected guilt for anyone on the receiving side of the violence but no doubt whatsoever on whether the violence was necessary in the first place.


>there is no shortage of horrific stories of police abuse from western/central Europe as well, for example

The biggest difference is most of the time when an officer abuses the public in the EU they are fired and criminally charged

In the US they are given a 3-5 day paid vacation while the police union and the dept find away to cover up the event, and the insurance company for the dept strong arms the victim into taking a no fault settlement that rarely even covers the medical costs for the victim


They aren't penalized for escalating it inappropriately.

Even being fired for cause just means getting the same job in the next town over.


Police in the US on general received much less training than in Europe.

“In the US, police training lasts on average 19 weeks,” she writes, while “in much of Europe that would be unthinkable. In Germany, for example, police train for at least 130 weeks - http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/7709638


The bigger issue is that police forces now think it's their job to protect corporations from people, instead of protecting the people.

This passenger violated no laws but the CPD willingly intervened as an agent of the corporation.

Guys with guns weren't required. United could have offered more compensation to volunteers or accommodated their crew on competing airlines.

In related news, we learn that Barclay's "received assistance from a US law enforcement agency" to unmask a whistleblower.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/04/10/whistleblowin...

Law enforcement have become lackeys of corporations, when their job should be to protect ordinary people from these abuses.


The police, and common culture, protect capital above all else. This is a capitalist society first and foremost. The status quo, the police state, and the corporation are all protected before the innocent individual. It's policy.


>> This passenger violated no laws

I'm willing to bet it wouldn't be too difficult to place charges of some sort on him. Not complying with police orders might be one, trespass might be another.


The law typically invoked here is "interfering with a flight crew": https://www.justice.gov/usam/criminal-resource-manual-1411-i...

I've never heard of trespass being used in this situation.

Since he appeared to be reasonably passive, I suspect it would be difficult to charge him with anything.

An aviation attorney commented about this and seemed to suggest it's very gray: http://denver.cbslocal.com/2017/04/10/united-airlines-remove...


As far as I know not complying with orders from the aircrew on board of an aircraft is against the law.


> The police should be retrained not to use violence. (Is this reasonable? You can imagine other instances where this where this would endanger them.)

Yes, there's a fairly wide belief in this, including by many leaders in law enforcement; that is, that American police have been trained in a means which over-encourages use of force, and that this should be changed (in some places, the work has begun an implementing such a change.)

A key write-up of this is: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/248654.pdf

EDIT: also:

> I will point out that it is not United that "chose" violence. They asked the police to intervene.

Asking the police to intervene because the state has a monopoly on violence, so they are free to use it in ways you are not, is choosing violence, even if the police might also veto that choice. So the issue is exactly that United chose violence.


The airline had plenty of options. When you ask the police to intervene, you are explicitly requesting a violent resolution.


When you ask the police to intervene, you are explicitly requesting a violent resolution.

You're asking the police, a third-party representing the state and its acknowledged monopoly on legitimate use of force, to become involved. That doesn't necessarily mean that the resolution will or must be violent.


What thing can the police do that United employees cannot? By requesting them, you are expecting them to do that thing.


There are a number of things the police can do besides resort to violence (which they are authorized to do if necessary). While news reports highlight violence, the vast majority of police interactions in the USA are non-violent. Just having the police present as representatives of law enforcement will change the tone of the interaction. The police can also act as mediators. Yes, there is the possibility that the police may have to resort to force, but that's not the only possible—or likely desired—result.


> You're asking the police, a third-party representing the state and its acknowledged monopoly on legitimate use of force, to become involved. That doesn't necessarily mean that the resolution will or must be violent.

The only thing the police have that United lacks in this circumstance is the monopoly on violence; by asking the police to become involved, United is asking for violence, by force or it's explicit or implied threat, to be deployed to resolve this situation.

It's true that police can use mechanisms other than force or explicit threat, but so can United without involving the police. The only reason to involve the police is because they are violence, at least in the form of implied threat of force.


'ryandrake expressed that by asking for the police, United was explicitly requesting a violent resolution. My initial comment is a reaction to the expectation that the resolution must be violent, which I don't believe is a foregone conclusion just by asking for the police to become involved.

The only thing the police have that United lacks in this circumstance is the monopoly on violence

United can't act as a third-party moderator, which can be useful in confrontations like this. The police can act in this role. Yes, part of their authority in this role is that they represent law enforcement, and the potential for use of force.

One point that perhaps has been made elsewhere in the submission comments but not in this thread is that simply arresting the man is a use of force, regardless of whether the man allows himself to be arrested peacefully or otherwise. In my mind that's significantly different from dragging someone off of a plane or beating them, though those, too, are uses of force. Is arresting someone peaceably violence? I'd argue not, though I'm open to hearing other thoughts on this.

I've been trying to express that just asking for the police is not requesting that the resolution would necessarily be violent, that there are other options available by having the police there, while clearly acknowledging that the police, as law enforcement, are an extension of the monopoly on legitimate use of force (which is a type of violence). Reading the responses I've received, it seems that I haven't been particularly effective in making that point.

In the interest of learning how to better express myself, would you point out to me how I could have done a better job? In particular, what phrases or statements did I make that prompted your response? I believe the only meaningful difference between what you've written and what I've tried to express is that the only purpose of the police in the situation is the use of force (or the potential use of force). Is that a correct assessment in your eyes?


Another way to further your point about police being a third-party moderator; we don't expect the police to shoot one or both people when answering a domestic dispute call.


Application of force is violence, by default. Even if it's just a tiny bit of force.

Much more useful would be deescalation and mediation, but that is not the training given to US police.


Yes, application of force is a type of violence. As you point out (as did I), that's not the only option available to police, and is not necessarily the expected result of asking for police assistance. And deescalation and mediation are part of the training given to US police. That said, law enforcement training is not consistent across jurisdictions in the US. Some likely have more training in mediation and deescalation than others.


What other options do the police have beyond violence that the airline does not?


They could explain legal consequences of non compliance. Maybe they could even fine you. Knowing that not acting as you are supposed to might result in legal hassle, fines, potential detention and if necessary physical violence to make it happen should usually be enough. Applying physical violence should be the very last resort.

It seems like large portions of the police force in the US and the perception of it has degenerated to be some brutish muscle. It's concerning how much that is accepted.


The police can also talk to the guy, determine he has a ticket and apparently has the right to be there, then leave and tell United to not call back until they've exhausted all their options.


Just because you have a ticket doesn't mean you can refuse to leave the plane when asked by the owner of said plane. Many people with tickets have been booted from planes for many reasons.


That's true. I don't think it would take long for the police to figure out what's going on though. Asking United to explore all of their options before applying force isn't unreasonable. United can ask the police for help and the police can say since it's not an emergency, we'll get there when we get there.


I don't believe that to be true. I believe that often ends up happening but I don't believe it to be a sure enough outcome that one can link the two with such certainty.

I hate to sound like an old guy but I do remember when police used to try to resolve issues. Much like many police interactions I've witnessed in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Police used to try to get everyone to calm down and figure out a solution that did not involve the need to get violent or anyone going to jail.

For instance, in this case, the police could have asked the doctor why he didn't want to deplane. With that knowledge they could have approached the United crew and informed them that this was a doctor who had to be at work tomorrow and imply that getting their four staff to another location seemed to be less important, so maybe they could find another passenger or find another solution.

If United persisted, the police should have gone back to the doctor and said, "Listen, we're on your side. They're being a-holes. But, it's their plane and they're asking you to leave which means you're trespassing and failing to follow the orders of a flight crew. We don't not want to arrest you or have to remove you by force, but we're boxed in a corner here. Just come with us and we'll help you file a complaint."


In the UK the police are still very reluctant to use unnecessary violence. It often surprises me that the US system is so otherwise. I mean who benefits?


It's not really about benefit. UK police, like most european police, have no expectation that anyone they encounter might be in possession of a firearm.


I'd also add that the police should have denied the request to get involved because this situation was a contractual issue between the airline and the passenger. No laws were being broken.


IANAL, but in the US, he'd be Trespassing if someone from the company asked him to leave and he didn't (which seems to be the case here). In some jurisdictions, DA/SAs will bump it up to Breaking and Entering so long as that statute allows to charge based on "remaining" in a conveyance rather than "entering" one.

It definitely should not have been requested of them, but it's possible laws were broken.


Violence will always underlie government, law, courts, and police. Nations can do research on de-escalation or non-violent interventions, but what happens when a nice method doesn't work? Violence comes next.

The objection here is that violence wasn't sufficiently gated, and nor was violence minimally applied -- the airline could've just paid people to get off with a real offer, and not a dishonest offer where people suspect they're going to get tricked by funny coupons and vouchers.


There seem to be no evidence in this case that non-violent methods weren't used first.

Surely the flight attendants politely asked the man to leave, and when he refused they called their manager who did the same, and only at that stage did they call the police, who also probably asked the man to leave first, before finally resorting to dragging him out.

At the end of the day, the plane is owned by United, and they have every right to uninvite him from their property, at which point he is trespassing, and it becomes a police matter. Sure, they might violate their own ToS on their tickets at that point, but that's a purely civil matter.


But there's a really obvious non-violent option that they apparently didn't take: pay people more. If nobody gets off the plane at $800, raise the offer to $1K. Or $5K. Or $10K. Most other overbooking situations are resolved once the offer gets above $1k + hotel, but even if it was, I really doubt that they couldn't have found 4 volunteers at $10K/each. $40K is a lot less than this incident is going to cost them in brand damage, legal fees, and plane delays.


OTOH, demonstrating willingness to use force to boot people off the plane if there aren't volunteers should decrease their future cost of dealing with overbooking, because the perceived alternative to taking a buyout offer is no longer "sit pat and be guaranteed to keep my seat."


Sure, but a whole lot of good that does you if people choose not to book with you in the first place because "Might get beaten up instead of transported to destination."


Yeah that would be nice. Unfortunately the air travel market is a fairly inefficient market. The cost of entry is super high, there are fairly few players and the big ones are good at doing nice nice with the government. In addition we allow them to undermine what little competition there is by creating their anti market alliances. I booked Air Canada to fly to Europe. I traveled via Canada to get away from US carriers. However, a few weeks before the trip they put us on a United flight because they are in some alliance together. Of course you frequently have very few reasonable options to begin with. It's a awfully broken market and I have no idea how we could possibly fix it. I constantly fly with airlines I hate (pretty much all American carriers but Virgin) because it's so cumbersome to avoid.


Well, my perceived alternative is now "never fly on United again". Not that it'll make much difference, since I was already avoiding them.


> that's a purely civil matter.

Maybe, maybe not. Airlines are heavily subsidized by the US government in exchange for regulation so they will offer service to rural areas which might not otherwise be viable to run an airline into our out of. There are also laws and regulations which turn disobedience of airline personnel into a federal offense in particular situations.

Whether these, combined with this passenger's situation, turns this from a civil to a federal matter is something I'd leave for the lawyers.


4) The police should say 'no' when being asked to intervene in these sorts of logistical issues.


Agreed. I for one will never fly United again. I hope many others do the same. The way that was handled just goes to show the culture and way things are done at that airline. Nobody had the logic to say, wait a minute, this is wrong. Calling the police to throw a passenger who did nothing wrong off? Countless ways to handle this better.

In the end, this is going to cost United a TON. United could have flown a plane with only those 4 employees on it for way less than the hit they are about to take.


Will it really hurt them financially though? Significantly that is?

Of course very few people will defend the airline's actions here, but while saying you won't ever fly United again is easy, is competition really strong enough among (in this case) US domestic airlines to enforce that boycott?

I am guessing most people will simply opt for United if their flights are the most convenient for them, and leave the boycotting to someone else.

I suspect not just because talk is cheap, but also because we have come to accept the current state of affairs surround air travel. From the moment you step into an airport until you depart at your destination, you submit. You'll docilely submit to standing in a queue being treated as a potential terrorist to the point of being shouted at if you don't comply fast enough or simply don't understand what is required of you, and (for most of us who can't afford first or business class) you'll submit to being treated as a third rate citizen. Flying means keeping your head down and submitting until you regain your sovereignty at your point of destination.

Flying sucks, and we grudgingly accept it in lieu of alternatives, or because we actually believe that this treatment is necessary for our safety. Next week people will have mostly forgotten about this incident and will fly United without a second thought if the need arises.


I don't know. I won't for sure, but will this news just die off after a week? I hope politicians step up and media pound on #unitedairline for weeks ripping up their past ugly treatments.


Good luck avoiding them. So frequently there are few options or you end up booking a flight with some alliance that then gets changed to be operated by someone else.


I think United were wrong here (maybe not legally) but morally and, even from their self-interest they took a major PR hit. People involved in this should be getting termination letters immediately.

However, I am curious. Once they made the decision to remove him. How could they have done so if he didn't want to move? A taser?


Randomly selecting passengers is not a bright idea, specially after they boarded into the airplane and are already seated. Just offer more money until you find a real volunteer: even if you have to pay $10k that's going to be much better economically and morally than forcing a random client out of a plane.


Plus, there's no way it would get that high. Likely people were willing to be bought out, but wanted it to be "worth it". Fear of missing out would intervene very quickly, once the vouchers reached a certain point.

Even on a plane full of game theorists, willing to bid up to a million dollars, you're still probably miles away from the amount this will cost in negative PR, to say the least.


I think one of the articles or tweets said that some passengers offered to go if they were given $1000


United apparently offered USD 800 plus a hotel room for the night; that seems pretty close.


Based on the circumstances (he wasn't a danger to anyone or acting out in any unreasonable way) the better choice probably would have been to just leave him be. He may not have had a legal "right" to be on the plane and United may have been within their rights to remove him but it can't have been worth the image hit to have him strongarmed off the plane. If they had given up on removing him and just picked someone else, or raised the compensation for someone to voluntarily give up their seat, or found another way to get their crew to their destination, this wouldn't have even been a story.


Did he not have a legal right? I thought the only reason they removed him was because the plane was overbooked and they wanted the seat for their own employees. Sounds like he had a valid ticket and every right to be on that plane. The airline should not have overbooked, and discovering that they had, they should have put their own employee on the next plane. Treating paying customers like this is inexcusable.


A ticket is just a deal between you and the airline. At any point the airline can decide it's not going to uphold that deal.

Sure, you can try to go to the courts to get monetary compensation for that, but you can't force them to provide the service.


That makes them an unreliable partner to deal with. A ticket is not just a simple product, there are other deals depending on it. You may have a vacation booked, an important meeting, a funeral, or anything else. Missing your flight could mean missing a lot more than just the flight. The airline should take their agreements a lot more seriously than this.


But if the airline takes their agreement a lot more seriously than this, then they're going to need to have reserve capacity. No more overbooking flights. Have standby pilots and planes available. Those things cost, and will show up in ticket prices.

The public has pretty well demonstrated that they prefer lower-price tickets over a higher-quality flying experience. So the airlines are giving the public what (the majority of) the public wants - a crappy, but cheap, experience.


And yet the thing people actually shop on is price.


Well, differentiating airlines is hard. To me, a for the most part non-traveler, they all offer pretty much the same product, quality-wise. Unless I was to up my ticket to some other class, every coach ticket is pretty much the same. So what am I supposed to differentiate on other than price?


Well, differentiating airlines is hard.

In future one might consider, "how likely are they to violently drag me off a plane?"


I'll be sure to select the non-violent checkbox on Google Flights, despite the need to save the $4.50 round-trip.


It is really rather easy to avoid it, just follow lawful orders by the flight crew.


Sure, but part of the point is that it isn't an accident. Airlines are paying attention to what people respond to so instead of going out of their way to compete on quality or whatever other factors, they compete on price.


I understand, but I don't think we can put the blame on the consumer alone. When all pretty-much compete on price alone, we can only compare on price alone.


If people manage to remember this event, they can now also compare on violently getting thrown off the plane.


If people decide that that's actually likely to happen, nobody will buy airline tickets. You pay the airline to get you to your destination, but if it's likely that you won't actually get to your destination, why risk paying the airline?

That's the source of the brand damage here: many people (rightly or not) will be wondering whether the same thing might happen to them if they fly United, and decide it's not worth the risk.


Airlines are legally allowed to overbook. It's an established practice.


Yes, but then there is a prescribed compensation that everyone involuntarily denied boarding (IDB) is entitled. The vouchers is an attempt to avoid this IDB by getting someone to voluntarily fly later.

Plus, I am not a lawyer, but I think IDB means just that -- boarding. Once you board the airline cannot change its mind, not for commercial reasons (although it might be able to weasel out of that by getting everyone off and re-boarding without some people). Again, take with a grain of salt; this is just what I heard.


Well, yes, but established practice is to deny people the opportunity to board the plane, not to violently remove them after they've already been seated.


Seems like it may be crucial. I am really eager to see how it resolves!


Just because it is legally allowed or an established practice does not make it right

Lots of things were legally allowed established practices until they were not; people realized they were unethical and immoral, hopefully people will begin to realize this practice is also unethical and work to abolish legal overselling


Yes, lots of things that are legal or established practice are not right.

But overbooking is almost certainly right. Look, fact is that some pax won't show up for their reservation. Without overbooking, planes would fly emptier, wasting money and damaging the environment.

The airlines have fairly good predictions in most cases, and people have different preferences, so that almost always in the small number of cases where there is not enough space you can get people to get bumped voluntarily. It's really a win-win.


It's a terrible practice and it should be punished more so it will stop.


Simple: they announce that the plane is not taking off until enough seats open up. Then just wait.

Sure, the flight would be delayed, perhaps significantly, but the impact of that would pale in comparison to this horrendous PR controversy.


Or, they could probably convince someone else to give up their seat voluntarily by just upping the incentive by a few hundred dollars. A very cheap solution, considering what the current fiasco will cost them.


Or, let it go. Seriously, or buy tickets from other airlines.


It costs a lot of money to idle a plane at the gate and even more if the crew times out and the flight gets cancelled. No-one is going to do that because of one difficult person


Or rather because of one difficult corporate miscalculation and unwillingness to pay more for people to get off. I got one would get off pretty much any flight for $10k. That seems cheaper to me than the cost of removing your paying customers by force.


Revisited the decision to remove him.


Maybe they could arrest him first? (Handcuffs and everything.) At least he would then realize that the situation is serious. Maybe also flash a gun or something...


yeah let's start toting gun at people who refuse to give up their paid seats.


I do not see how the passenger violated the contract of carriage.

Section 25 doesn't apply, they were not denied boarding. And I don't see anything in section 21 they've violated either. Their forced removal seems to be the airline violating their own contract, not the passenger.

https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/contract-of-carriag...


> The real thing to fear here is the normalization of violence.

Then there's not much to fear, because I don't see anyone at all finding this normal. It's on every news site and social network, everyone is deeply disturbed about these events.

If anything this clearly shows that violence is FAR from normal in peoples' mind.


The folks carrying out the orders found it normal. At least, we have no suggestion of any kind of extraordinary situation that justified them using violence.


Exactly. Lining up intellectuals, journalists and others against the wall is one fewer, finite normalizations away from occurring.


So what do you do when someone refuses to leave?

I'm on the doctor's side, United should not overbook a plane and bump a customer to get their own people on board, but when someone refuses to leave what other options do you have? Taze him and drag him off? You'll have to use force to remove someone.


Like the GP said : this was a logistical problem. They needed to get 4 employees from point A to point B 300 miles away. There are several ways of tackling this challenge :

1. continue escalating their shitty voucher bribes : sooner or later someone's gonna bite

2. arrange alternate air transport for the crew : they're already in an airport, and 2 of their competitors (American, Southwest) have multiple direct flights between Chicago and Louisville each day

3. arrange ground transport : otherwise known as renting a car and driving. Not super fun, but I've had ironically had United pull that shit on me from NYC to DC - i.e. they cancelled a flight and put us on an overnight coach bus. If it's good enough for customers, it's good enough for the crew.

4. suck it up and delay whatever flight that crew was scheduled for. It sucks, but it was their mistake to overbook and this isn't a safety-critical situation.

Bottom line, there are about 951 different ways to tackle this problem and they chose the absolutely worst one out of the bunch. That kind of stupidity is legitimately impressive to behold.


> 4. suck it up and delay whatever flight that crew was scheduled for. It sucks, but it was their mistake to overbook and this isn't a safety-critical situation.

Isn't there a good chance this happened anyway? I heard the plane was grounded for 2 hours.


United might not have gotten their crew there in time to fly the next day given legal rest requirements, in which case a whole planeload of people (and possibly more, due to knock-on effects) might have been denied a flight.


There was no reason for this to even get to a point where physically removing a passenger who did nothing wrong was necessary. There was a very simple solution here: United wanted 4 seats, offered some vouchers, and got no takers. At that point, you start sweetening the deal for giving up your seat until you get some takers. I guarantee it wouldn't have taken much.


You beat them senseless! No need to increase the incentives. Same should apply in employment contracts: Hey, Joe, listen here! I need to randomly cut your pay and if you don't take it I have security nearby to convince you!

What else can you do?! Am I right?!


Isn't that what we used to do with striking employees?


If you pay me then you can come. It is called AirBnb. If you show up, settle in and then see me coming to you and asking you to go out since I need to use the room for myself for the night. Business-related stuff, you understand.

How do you feel? It is dark, rainy and tomorrow at 8 you have a job interview in the city.

You better pack up nicely and quickly, because I'll call the cops otherwise.

Let me know if you feel like you'd understand the situation.


> So what do you do when someone refuses to leave?

They should not get into this situation. At ALL. They should, like they normally do, handle overbooking at the boarding stage -- by either offering compensation or by issuing IDB checks to people they choose to prevent from boarding.

What happened is major mistake and is morally despicable. I hope the passenger gets punitive damages.


> So what do you do when someone refuses to leave?

Pay another airline to ship your employees. This is nothing but horrible planning on United's part. Worst case: Google Maps says a 5-hour drive separates Chicago from Louisville.


What you do when someone refuses to leave their seat?

In the free market, you offer enough money until someone decides that the offer is good enough. Everybody has a price.

In a fascist place, you call the thugs to punch an asian doctor unconscious, so that he can be dragged away from his (paid) seat, so that employees can take their (free) seats


Raise the offer from $800, which is a low amount for an airline overbooking.


Reverse auction.

Ok, we're offering $10,000 to anyone who gets off.

I see twenty hands and we only need four.

How about $8,000, ok, down to 19 hands.

10 minutes later, and they probably would have ended up paying LESS than $800/seat.


What is to stop the four "winners" of this auction demanding more money? (Apart from the threat of assault of course!)


"Hey, so, these four are being jerks, so we're starting over again, but they're not allowed to participate."


So they're guaranteed a seat on the flight? Sounds like a winning strategy for them.


Everyone gets a seat on the flight, except those volunteering to leave for the incentive...


In this hypothetical scenario, they were already guaranteed a seat on the plane.


From what I've read. Passengers offered $1500 to leave but the employees scoffed at that. Not sure how true though.


"Yeah, we're not doing that. We're canceling your ticket. You're now trespassing." seems like the attitude taken here.


I've also read that it typically comes in the form of dozens of $100 flight vouchers that can't be used in combination. The compensation is essentially the airline printing their own money.


I think the max that an airline can compensate people for an oversold flight is $1000 plus lodging.


USD 1350.

DOT, Air passenger "Bill of Rights"

https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/fly-rights#Overbo...

> If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (400% of your one-way fare, $1350 maximum).


You are correct


Where does that constraint come from? Is that self imposed?


Why should he leave in the first place?


Pick them up and carry them out. If necessary, bring in more people so that you can pick them up and carry them out without hurting them.


Bah!

Our society is less violent today than even recent history and continued reductions are more likely than not.

Which I don't mean we shouldn't be concerned about unnecessary use of force, I mean that it requires very careful measurement to say that violence is being normalized (Rather than rejected).


Someone on a different message board put this situation very well: By the letter of the law, United was correct - morally, they were not. Their 'contract of carriage' allows them to IDB (Involuntary Deny Boarding) to passengers due to overselling, and bump people off at-will. Depending on how delayed the passenger would be to their final destination, they would owe compensation (up to a max of $1350) for the trouble.

Unfortunately, the way this played out was pretty terrible. My hope would be that events like this could move United (and other airlines) to having more transparent overbooking policies and compensating people fairly, but that's not likely.


> Their 'contract of carriage' allows them to IDB (Involuntary Deny Boarding) to passengers due to overselling, and bump people off at-will.

But my understanding from the article is that the problem here was not overselling; they decided to give priority to moving their employees around over providing the contracted service to ticketed passengers. It's hard to see how that's justifiable even by the letter of the law.


If there's equipment waiting in Louisville, and another entire plane isn't going anywhere without them, that's how its justifiable. IDB means you can (legally) be physically removed from a flight.

With that said, don't drag people off your flights. No matter what it costs you to get staff where they need to be when you make this mistake, it'll be cheaper than the negative publicity of a physical altercation removing a passenger (even if you need to retask a commuter aircraft just to relocate the crew, or ask another carrier to get them there).


Still doesn't make the original flight "oversold". That's a very specific term in airline travel relating to ticketed seats sold for a flight, not a United staffing fuckup.

Edited: for clarity.


> Not a United staffing fuckup

If a doctor gets physically assaulted by Chicago's Aviation Authority staff because you didn't leave four seats free on your flight, you most assuredly fucked up.


He's saying this IS a staffing fuckup, and the term "oversold" or "overbooked" is wrong here, as it relates to having too many tickets for a plane, not UA staff fucking up.


The point is that "oversold" is not the appropriate term.


It's still overselling. The maximum capacity is just not N but N - 4.


> With that said, don't drag people off your flights. No matter what it costs you to get staff where they need to be when you make this mistake, it'll be cheaper than the negative publicity of a physical altercation removing a passenger (even if you need to retask a commuter aircraft just to relocate the crew, or ask another carrier to get them there).

Of course, that just gives a hecker's veto to anyone insubordinate enough to refuse to leave. What they probably should have done was select another passenger, and have police waiting for the recalcitrant passenger at the destination airport: that would satisfy the need to get personnel to their destination and ensure punishment for someone violating his contract and wouldn't cause a scene.


No, what they should have done is exactly what other airlines do when they are overbooked: keep raising the voucher amount until someone volunteers to get off. And if you can't find someone to get off at a price that seems appropriate (which is very unlikely: you're always going to find someone willing to take $1000), work out other arrangements.

The moment you've escalated to "we've selected people at random, and we are willing to eject people by violence or arrest them on the other end" you've already lost.


  No, what they should have done is exactly what other airlines do when they are overbooked: keep raising the voucher amount until someone volunteers to get off.
Or do what European airlines are mandated to do by law:

Offer cash!

I, for one, am absolutely not interested in any vouchers that probably come with a shit ton of fine print, which makes them either unatractive, or impossible to redeem. Or probably both.


Unless you have some bizarre demand curve due to extreme circumstances (famine, civil war, etc) there will always be a clearing price.

No need for violence.


It doesn't even have to be bizarre. I've been on flights where the entire flight is going to Mardi Gras, spring break in Daytona, or a cruise; when everyone is expecting to be somewhere, the clearing price can quickly exceed what you'd expect.


I suspect that in retrospect, United would gladly have paid $100,000 to avoid this fiasco.


Funny enough, it would've only cost United ~$10k to put their crew on a dedicated Embraer 145 commuter jet to Louisville from Ohare. Oops.


Yeah but that would affect profits. Much better to just rough the self-loading cargo up a bit and drag it off the plane. /s


> And if you can't find someone to get off at a price that seems appropriate (which is very unlikely: you're always going to find someone willing to take $1000), work out other arrangements.

I think that randomly selecting passengers is the 'other arrangements' their policy works out.

I agree that they should have increased vouchers past $800, but I disagree that it's guaranteed that there would be enough takers at e.g. $1,000 per, or even $2,000 per.

And I'm shocked at the downvotes: flight crew instructions have the force of Federal law; people who violate Federal law get arrested. The biggest mistake United made here was allowing there to be a disturbance in the first place, which caused a PR disaster. 'Man arrested on landing for refusing to leave plane' is a much better PR situation than 'man dragged bodily from plane.' Granted, 'United pays record-setting $100,000 in vouchers to convince four passengers to give up seats' is probably better PR still.


Honestly, I'm amazed that in a whole plane, no one jumped at $800. I was very, very, happy to take a $1,000 voucher for a flight to China that required me to take an extra flight (Dallas to Chicago then to Beijing as opposed to Dallas to Beijing) -- Then again, perhaps my day is less valuable than others'.


Maybe they should give people actual money instead of vouchers. With the few vacation days you get in the US they become really valuable.


It's part of the game I suppose. Few vouchers get used. Heck, I had to waste $90 of it buying a ticket I didn't use to extend it for another year.


Exactly.


> and have police waiting for the recalcitrant passenger at the destination airport

To do what, exactly?


Arrest him for trespassing and fine him for interfering with a member of the flight crew, apparently.


You are not trespassing when you are in an establishment, a venue, or even a plane having bought a valid ticket for said establishment, venue or plane.


Are you sure about that, if they inform you that they're revoking your ticket and telling you to leave? Passengers are required to obey the flight crew at all times.

"Rule 21: Refusal of Transport: UA shall have the right to refuse to transport or shall have the right to remove from the aircraft at any point, any Passenger for the following reasons:"

"H. Safety – Whenever refusal or removal of a Passenger may be necessary for the safety of such Passenger or other Passengers or members of the crew including, but not limited to: "

"2. Passengers who fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew, federal regulations, or security directives;"

Or, if not trespassing, would you like "breach of contract" or something? I'm sure they could find something; I'm neither very creative or experienced when it comes to making up criminal charges in order to punish people for interfering with my profit.


  Are you sure about that
No, I'm not :)

What is clear, though, is that he had a right to be on his seat before the whole sorry mess started. They probably could get him for "interfering with a flight crew" or some such crap after they asked him to leave.

While passengers usually do get the short end of the stick (and in the case of United it appears that the stick is always covered in shit, but I digress) I think the situation in Europe is a lot better.

When bumped, or even if you experience extended delays the airline must compensate you in cash. No useless vouchers, which are hard to redeem. There are a few exceptions, were that doesn't apply, namely if delays are beyond their control. Mechanical problems, however, don't count because it's their duty to properly maintain their gear.

Passenger rights within the EU are clearly spelled out and airlines can't subvert them by mealy mouthed "contracts of carriage"

I'd also wager that this wouldn't have escalated to this point virtually anywhere in Europe. Since the "smack him in the face and that'll teach him to comply" philosophy of policing seems much less aparent.


At the end of the day, the contract of carriage clauses are extremely broad and disadvantageous to the consumer. If the airline decides they want someone, or you, off the flight, there's actually very little recourse. Even the amount of time they can delay you without compensation during the day and with minimal compensation overnight is pretty absurd. That said, I'm not sure why they wouldn't just offer increasing compensation for those willing to bump to the next flight like usual. Four people will accept a few hundred to a thousand dollars to be bumped one flight.


A couple of points:

1. You are correct that is what they CoC states, however its not like this is really a free market (ie. the customer didn't really have a choice but to accept those terms). United, and all commercial airlines, effectively have a monopoly license. So, it wasn't really a free and open market that produced those CoC terms.

2. As sign of the "bad faith" of United's contract, the reverse situation is not permitted. That is, a customer who chooses not to fly at the last minute doesn't get to reschedule - and in many cases will simply forfeit his money. So, on one end of this contract a government monopoly can kick you off a flight via force based on whim (breaking the implied contract that they were going to service you), but on the other end the customer either has no other competitor choice nor has any recourse once they've handed over their money.


Well said. I'd be curious to hear if there is a major airline that does not have the IDB policy.


There are some airlines that do not set out to oversell/overbook flights - JetBlue, for example. Even in a situation where a flight is only sold to capacity, there can be various reasons for people to be IDBed. Damaged seats, Equipment Changes (A321 -> A320 for example), etc.

At some point, every US carrier has has or will have to IDB people, and they all have a policy that gives them as much leeway as possible under federal regulations to do so.


I would be extremely surprised as not having one is all downside to them.


The problem is that what's legal and what's ethical have diverged into two wholly different things. "The law" is now often used to aid in unethical activity, not to prevent it.


The other problem is what society views as ethical or moral is now subjective to each on a variety of different factors in this post post-modern society. There was once puritanical values, however despised they are by certain factions, which unified the "ethos" of the nation on what is and is not ethical. The civil rights movement came along and augmented that ethos for the better.

Now we have groups who place abandoning a cat on the same level as abandoning a child, as an example. It's going to be very difficult on agreeing what is "ethical" when in the "me" society it translates to "what is ethical for me, right now, based on my current views of some form of science/philosophy/religion/spirituality/etc and what happened to me personally when I was growing up"


The golden age of unified national consensus on what is ethical is a myth.


If anything, there's a long history of repressive regimes that attempt to force an ethics on society through religion. The ancient Romans even tried to enforce Christianity on their own people, replacing the official state religion, after decades of trying to stamp it out.


Ethics have always started and ended at the individual level. Even in societies dominated by communal thinking/living.


Airlines shouldn't be allowed to overbook. Causing people to miss their flights just because the company wanted to ensure 100% profitability per flight is unacceptable, and it shouldn't be legal (the overbooking, not the throwing off a plane for whatever other serious reason per se).


They'd have probably staying profitable if they couldn't overbook. Overbook it, sure, but offer escalating incentives to get people to voluntarily disembark. Physical removal is ridiculous and should be removed from the carrier's legal rights.


Putting profits ahead of anything else is what causes so much problems in the U.S. these days.

If only one company decided to overbook, then sure, I agree with you. But if it were a law, and every airline was forced not to overbook, then it simply means the ticket prices would be a little higher. And if because of those slightly higher ticket prices, the airline might have to retire a plane or two, then so be it, but no airline would go bankrupt because of it.

We have all sorts of laws that protect consumers and employees that "hurt" the absolute maximization of profit. This wouldn't be any different. When it's a law, it just means everyone plays at a higher standard and prices are a little higher than they would be without those protections.

Also, Canada is likely going to pass such a law soon:

http://globalnews.ca/news/3370381/canada-overbooked-flights-...


You mean to say it hasn't always been that way?


> Involuntary Deny Boarding

I don't have the contract at hand, but by the above wording, the man was already boarded...


From my understanding, you're correct. Deny Boarding can be avoided by checking in early. These people had boarded and the plane was full before the mistake was realized.

EDIT: Still unsure as to the legality of this. IDB is well established, but the fact that everyone has boarded is a different matter. Reading the contract of carriage did not bring any more light to this point. And let's be clear, denying someone and removing someone are very different. At least one source says it does matter (unknown reputability) "This is important because involuntary denied boarding only applies when passengers have been fully checked in (including baggage) and are at the gate at a specified time, typically 30 minutes before scheduled departure." https://thepointsguy.com/2014/12/what-to-do-if-your-flight-i...


I believe your understanding is incorrect - someone can be denied boarding regardless of when they have checked into the flight. If there are 100 seats, they may sell 105 tickets and permit 105 people to check in - if they cannot find 5 volunteers they will have to IDB 5 passengers.

While the rules aren't printed very well (I just scanned United's Contract of Carriage, and the Federal Code), I believe it counts as an IDB even if you are physically on the airplane.


Reading through the rules, it would appear that you are correct, though it looks like checking in earlier should make it more unlikely "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."


I'm not sure the United Conditions of Carriage are really relevant here anyway - if United were to decide to violate their own conditions of carriage, the worst penalty a court would likley invoke would be to consider the whole contract null and void, awarding that passenger a full refund, and maybe paying for a hotel (damages).


They could very well, unless otherwise restricted by law, apply punative damages as well as pain and suffering beyond that.


For reference, section 25 of their contract of carriage: https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/contract-of-carriag...


The point is that if you're late at the gate (after the 30 minute cut-off, say), then they are under no obligation to let you on the plane, and do not have to compensate you under IDB rules.


Too bad, I say. If we're going by the exact letter of the law on what is/isn't acceptable then the mistake started and ended on the airline side.


If the airline makes a mistake and realizes that mistake too late, they should take the hit themselves, not punish an innocent passenger for their own mistake.

Airlines should make a better effort to avoid overbooking. If they can get away with this kind of despicable behaviour, they'll never improve.


> they should take the hit themselves, not punish an innocent passenger for their own mistake.

If they don't get their crew to the other airport, the next day a full plane load of people (or more, due to knock-on effects) might have been denied a flight.


That just means they should plan better. It's no excuse for intentionally screwing over their paying passengers.


Nobody disputes that better planning would be better, or that they should not have let everyone on board.

However, mistakes happen. For operational reasons, now the flight had a smaller capacity. Could have been that the seatbelt for a seat didn't work, or weight & balance issues.

At that point, it strikes me as perfectly legit to seek volunteers, and then, well, disembark pax involuntarily (while giving them all the help and compensation that they're entitled to, and more).

That's hardly "intentionally screwing over paying passengers".


What they're entitled to, is a seat on the plane that they booked and paid for. And whatever the problems that this airline might run into if they don't do this, they're not taking into account the problems they're causing for others by doing this. The guy was a doctor who had to be in a hospital the next morning. What if a patient dies because of this?

Sure, mistakes happen. But the real mistake here is that the airline punishes passengers for the airline's mistakes. They should be taking responsibility for their own mistakes, rather than take them out on their customers.

Given this situation with an overbooked plane due to their own stupid lack of planning, they could and should have offered more money until someone did volunteer. That would have been cheaper than this travesty, and not a single person would have complained about it. Instead, they short-sightedly try to save some money by having the police (who also don't work for free) drag a perfectly legitimate customer out of the plane.

It's a distressing rejection of responsibility for their own actions.


Thanks to overbooking, flying is cheaper and more efficient. I do not think there is a need to avoid it.


Yes, he should sue the bejeezus out of them.


Whoever decided to force the guy off the plane is an idiot. They could have simply raised the comp for volunteering slowly until someone took the money.


But that costs money immediately. Forcing someone off the plane and causing a huge HR mess only costs money long-term, and it doesn't come out of my budget, so why should I care?


Good point. Whoever set the incentives badly and set some arbitrary cap at $1350 should be fired.


The cap really isn't being explained properly, it's actually almost assuredly not relevant to this guy's situation.

The actual penalty is 4x the cost of the segment. Note this is not what you paid for the ticket on your credit card divided by two (in the event of a direct round trip ticket). This guy was likely owed somewhere in the range of a few hundred bucks as a ORD-SDF segment is likely worth about $50-100 after fees are excluded.

The $1350 is simply the max, your ticket has to be worth at least $337.50 for that to matter - at which time it's against you of course.

Think you'd probably have to fire congress to make that limit and multiplier higher :)


This is incorrect

The law says

>Compensation shall be 400% of the fare to the passenger's destination or first stopover, with a maximum of $1,350, if the carrier does not offer alternate transportation

Stopover is defined in the law as

>>Stopover means a deliberate interruption of a journey by the passenger, scheduled to exceed 4 hours, at a point between the place of departure and the final destination.

Thus the carrier is responsible for 4x the total cost of the ticket, from Pick to destination unless the connecting layover is more than 4 hours in length

as to the point on "after fees excluded" the law requires compensation based on the full fare

fare is defined as

>>Fare means the price paid for air transportation including all mandatory taxes and fees

SO while some fees may be included, if they are optional addons like baggage fees, upgrades, drinks, meals, etc. Any mandatory fees and taxation must be included

Source:https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/250.5


That would be a regulator or Congress. The airline would set no cap, if they could get away with macing you to get you off the airplane, they would. "Next time, just get off the plane when we ask the first time."

When a family member, or associate of Congress gets hit with this experience, then maybe the fines get adjusted accordingly.

Anyway, hopefully the guy gets a good lawyer.


> That would be a regulator or Congress.

No, it's a United policy:

https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/contract-of-carriag...

The airline hasn't commented yet on why they didn't go above 800, when they could go to 1350.


That's just IDB coverage, mandated by the FAA. They don't get a choice here. You will find the exact same penalties and limits for all airlines.

Voluntary compensation is entirely different - they are free to offer whatever they like to get someone off the flight. Involuntary unfortunately incentives keeping those limits low as a matter of airline policy though, of course. They can force someone off a plane for usually far less than $800 if they feel like taking a customer good will hit. This ORD-SDF flight certainly was nowhere near $1350 in IDB comp - likely less than $300 in mandatory IDB comp based on average ticket prices.

I've seen these offers go as high as $2,000 during significant service disruptions on major airlines. This is a corporate policy failure, as I'm sure the gate agent was only allowed to authorize up to $800 for that flight or something dumb.

They rolled the dice on saving a few hundred bucks against their reputation this time. I think it's safe to say they lost badly on that calculation.


You're assuming that low level airline employees even realized they were rolling dice.

They were told to save cash, and by golly, they saved that cash.



Maybe I'm thinking of baggage. I know there's a limit on liability applied by law somewhere.


That's the maximum amount that they're required to offer by law. They're welcome to voluntarily exceed that cap.


I dream of a world where bump compensation is unlimited. The same people who now churn miles to fly everywhere for free would then start strategically chasing storms to get bumped from flights and make tens of thousands of dollars in compensation.

We have mileage runs and mattress runs already; why can't we have bump runs as well?

Someone get Carl Weathers on the phone!


The bump fee only works if it's not weather related. Mechanical and overbooking only. Oh, and pilot scheduling mistakes.


Today's cancellation is weather-related. But when you get bumped from the make-up flight tomorrow because of overcrowding, it's an operational issue.

It's a multi-day play.


Because you will get fired if you manage your reports to behave in this way.


According to Reddit hearsay they offered increasing amounts up to $800 but no one budged. One passenger offered to leave for $1500 and the crew laughed. I'm assuming there's corporate policy that puts a maximum cap on compensation.


Any maximum cap is ridiculous. Let the free market reign! The flight itself represents many tens of thousands of dollars of fares.

United have a price they were willing to cost the seat, they were unwilling to bear the cost.

Either way, it's United's PR disaster to handle.


Delta paid more than $1000 to passengers in a similar situation: https://consumerist.com/2017/04/10/one-family-earned-11000-b...


There is. Delta says $600 for a 4-hour forced rebook and up to $1200 or $1400 for longer. Can't remember the exact amount.

Ah wait, I think it's some formula based on miles and delay.

Regardless, it's some arbitrary cap for no good reason.


I also got laughed at when I tried to negotiate up an offer of $1,000 to switch flights.

Learn from my lesson though, try negotiating before you accept, not after. Not sure if it would have made a difference, but definitely less embarrassing.


...the crew laughed.

I guess we should film everything while traveling. Editing the laughter together with the dragging and screaming would be golden...


The laughter might be the most ridiculous part of this. If offered them to get off for 10k in actual money and would have found that perfectly reasonable given the situation they were in. The laughter shows that they somehow set themselves as above the market and the passengers at their mercy. They technically are, but see where it got United.


> film everything

Ubiquitous surveillance of citizens is bad. Ubiquitous surveillance by citizens is good.


For some reason it looks a little bit off considering that he was already boarded and in his seat. I can understand the reasoning if it is executed at gate or check-in. It happened to me, and while frustrating, you comply.

But if you have to take people off the aircraft, that looks like a last minute decision made by the airline to move staff.

The best approach would have been to up the reward/incentive.


But if it was a last-minute thing, what happens to checked baggage, which may have already been loaded onto the plane by that point?

Does this imply you're much more likely to get picked for last-minute eviction if you didn't check anything in?


No, they can re-route the baggage for you if you're going on another flight. If you're not flying they remove it (which can significantly delay takeoff causing a fine to the airline if their stats drop outside of standards).

I've flown on budget flights before that have a similar case where your checked lugagage is not necessarily on your flight to the destination but could be on a later one. Even much later. Very few guarantees before they actually start paying out for lost or delayed baggage.

They're also allowed to ship your baggage to you or hand deliver with a shipping courier.


Pretty sure assault and battery is not legal.


Technically perhaps but they never do anything if it's done by the police.


Well if the contract and the law says they can involuntarily remove passengers from the plane, then it is necessarily legally permissable for United to assault/battery their passengers. Whether or not that is morally the right thing to do, or whether that is a wise business move in this case is a separate question (probably answer is no). Hypothetically they could legally shoot their customers if battery was not enough force if the contract stipulates so.


Illegal things don't become legal just because they're in a contract. Otherwise, people who can't pay credit card debt would be under the whip in work camps.


Think the solution is to outlaw IDB for overbooking. This is similar to letting airlines sit a plane on the tarmac for hours with all the passengers stewing inside. Once they had to start paying penalties they quit doing that.

In this case, denying IDB would force the airlines to pay the passengers whatever it cost to get them to voluntary leave the plane. This constitutes a penalty for overbooking to the point where they have to refuse carriage, and also just compensation for those inconvenienced.


Legally - is this considered assault?


No. It's a federal crime to disobey instructions of the flight or the captain. If they ask you to leave the aircraft you're required to leave. If you refuse and need to be physically removed, tough.

Not that I'm saying this makes United's behavior acceptable - I have no idea how they managed to load the plane before realizing they needed extra seats - just that the law is, in this case, on their side.


I'm not trying to rationalize anyone's actions here, but if the captain told you to kill another passenger, that is not within his right of removal of choice for individual. i.e. The captain is only allowed to remove choice for an individual when the group is threatened, given they are in charge, by law, of making choices for group (perhaps for the reason of or related to in-flight matters).

Edit: changed he to they.


That's actually not true (afaik). Certainly the command to kill another passenger is unlawful, and you won't carry it out.

But also just as certainly he can tell you to leave the aircraft for refusing.

There literally is absolutely no legal right for you to stay on that vessel after the captain requests you leave.

Plenty of incidents support this on a practical level - captains remove people rarely but not unheard of for silly and discriminatory reasons. They likely get disciplined after the fact by the company, but in the moment you have zero recourse as a passenger who was asked to leave. Your options are to grab your bag and walk off, or be removed and possibly go to jail. Either way you are pleading your case on the ground.


> That's actually not true

What exactly did I say that wasn't true? If a captain removes people for discrimination, then they are removing choice from individual based on making choice for group. People don't want to hear a racist's rationalizations, so as a group decision it might be a good one, especially given it is related to in-flight matters (or the prediction it will be related to in-flight matters). Again, I state that the captain is only allowed (legally) to remove choice for individual when the group (all people in plane) are denied things related to in-flight matters.

Laws are typically rational.

I will note my response was directed to the claim that if they ask you to do something, you must do so. I'm stating that I do not believe, in all cases, the captain has the rational right, by law, to remove choice from an individual if they are not threatening choice for group. That's not to say the captain can't and won't do a removal, but it is irrational to remove choice from individual if they are not threatening group. That also implies it might not pass the muster of law, and a passenger would not be "guilty" of breaking a law by resisting removal. And besides, four people had to go, so the choice to remove that one individual's right to choice was removed by randomness or judgement, both of which are irrational actions.


I think at this point we'd need a lawyer to actually tell us the law here. I agree with you in that there should be a rational reason to remove someone. I simply disagree that there must be legally speaking.

The captain (afaik) can remove you for wearing blue shoes, and you must leave. He will face zero legal consequences for that action, but of course is subject to company discipline. In the absurd case the captain somehow owns the airline itself, I think there would be zero recourse available to an arbitrarily removed passenger other than IDB compensation and a refund of the ticket.

I also think the level of force in this case can certainly be argued - but I don't think the United crew will face any legal liability even if the officers do. Had they used a bit more discretion I'm quite certain this guy would have no case whatsoever even if physically removed against his will. Knocking him out of course is excessive, and I believe that is a separate argument.

I didn't intend to call you wrong, that wasn't the greatest choice of words. I'm simply stating this has been my understanding of the legal implications for some time now, as explained to me by casual conversation with various lawyers over the years since it's a curious subject for me.


The captain has extremely broad latitude over who is allowed to be on the flight. He doesn't need to give a reason for kicking someone off.


I said absolutely nothing about removing anyone from a flight in my first comment.


Are you referring to something other than FAR 91.3(a)? Because that pertains to the pilot in command being the final authority over aircraft operations. Removing a docile passenger who is merely violating the contract of carriage is not what that regulation has in mind.

This sounds to be like strictly a contract of carriage violation by the passenger, it is a civil matter, not criminal. I think the airline can't physically coerce the passenger individually once they're in the plane. They can remove his luggage and just wait until that passenger, or some other passenger, complies. But physically removing someone not engaged in criminal activity itself becomes assault.


Was the person doing the assaulting federal law enforcement? Was he arrested? I don't think either of these are true. So, I don't think this is how any of this actually works.


It turns out that airline crew have infinite powers on their own planes (well...nearly). They can actually thrown someone off a plane on a whim. Source: I saw this happen last year.


Right, you can "throw" people off a plane. But if you do so in a manner that is totally illegal, you have still broken a law in doing so. That would be my point.


If they were not allowed to use force then they would in fact only have the right to "request" people leave the plane. Throwing off implies at least the option to use force.


But the point is the pilots have legal authority to throw people off the plane. Therefore it is tautologically legal.


It would have to go before a judge. It could be a case of excessive force. Was there something else they could have done rather than end up with him getting knocked out and a bloody nose. As someone else mentioned it would be brought against the policeman in this case (or authority they work for).

United unfortunately is probably legally in the right here. However this is a major fuck up and it will take them a while to clear this black PR mark from their record.

Anyone searching for it will find "United" might find this "Airline drags doctor off the flight because they wanted to fly their employees instead" for years to come. Hopefully it was really worth getting those employees there...


Paradoxically, I'd argue that many knowledgeable people/frequent flyers will understand and excuse United's behaviour, but they haven't flown United for years, because they're so crap.

While clueless idiots are now making a huge shitstorm on social media, and then fly United next week because it's $3.50 cheaper.

So, not sure that will have any impact on United's actual numbers.


I'd venture to guess likely not at first glance - the guy was trespassing at that point and refused to move. The only alternative from that limited perspective is use of force.

You can't just refuse to leave an aircraft when instructed to do so by the crew. The reason simply doesn't matter - the time to fight about that is off the aircraft.

It may be considered excessive force however - which likely opens up avenues for assault and similar charges. Heck if I know though, IANAL and now I'm well off into the speculation weeds.


> You can't just refuse to leave an aircraft when instructed to do so by the crew.

As I read the article, the police showed up, and he still refused to leave the aircraft. You can't just refuse when the cops tell you to leave. There are going to be physical consequences for that.

> It may be considered excessive force however

Yes, it may.


Depends on the lawyer, if you can get it before a judge and judge/jury. It's unlikely since United has very expensive lawyers I'm sure.

Remember, the law is different depending on your income and status. Large companies are like very rich people. They can and do often get away with murder.


I don't think that matters in this case. When (not if) this guy sues, United is going to pay a huge settlement (with a gag clause) to make this go away as quickly as possible. They do not want this going to court with weeks of media attention, even if their case is ironclad.


No, but it might be grounds for a suit against the police.


The passenger was attacked by a random big dude in blue jeans. Sure there were uniforms looking on with approval, but this guy looked like a baggage handler not police?


Sky marshal? Doubt some random just decided to drag someone off a plane.


Watch the video. The guy is big, but he's not acting like police, and he doesn't have any sort of uniform. The two useless cops are just looking on like useless cops do.


I watched the video. Sky marshals purposefully wear normal clothes, so they blend in with the rest of the passengers on the flight. Having them wear uniforms would kind of defeat the purpose.

The cops are likely waiting until the passenger is off the plane to take him into custody.


I suppose he could have identified himself and displayed a badge before the video started, but nothing about this guy said "police" to me. My experience with airport police says that taking the guy into custody was the last thing the actual police wanted to do. That suspicion is confirmed by the fact that after getting dragged off, the passenger reboarded the plane. Justifiably, real police don't consider themselves airline employees. They look down on both airline security and TSA.

Actually the real police might well have told United to increase the voucher amount like any civilized human organization would do. The gate agent then looked outside and picked out the biggest meanest baggage handler she saw. I really doubt the Sky Marshals want any part of this disaster.


Hard to say. Which laws continue to be enforceable against airport police if there's an insinuation that you may have been difficult?


Or trespassing? Law is fun right?


Does this mean they can still bump people off the flight at-will even though he already boarded the flight?


Then the law is wrong.


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