- United Airlines flight (operated by Republic Airways) 3411 from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday evening (April 9th)
- United says it was an overbooked situation – they needed to transport crew members to Louisville for a flight (4)
- United offered all customers onboard $400 and then $800 and a hotel to get off the plane
- After no one accepted, United agents boarded and said that the computer would randomly select 4 passengers that would be required to disembark
- According to reports, the first 3 random passengers got off the plane (and would have been refunded according to the laws regarding this situation known as IDB – involuntarily denied boarding)
- The 4th passenger was a gentleman who said he was a doctor and had patients waiting for him in the morning. When they said he had to get off, he said he was calling his lawyer.
- United had called aviation police who boarded and can be seen in the video below. They pulled the man out from his seat and dragged him out of the plane.
- Somehow, the passenger was able to get back on the plane, insisting he had to leave
- The flight was delayed for 2 hours and the aviation police officer was suspended pending an investigation
How United’s Handling of the Dragged Passenger May Change How Customers React
Ok, so those above are the “facts” as we know them from witnesses and reports. A pretty scary situation for all of those onboard and I am sure a traumatic one for the passenger who was dragged off the plane. While everyone is hearing the stories and reports now that say that United has the law on their side when handling such situations (though certainly not bloodying a passenger), I am sure most people never actually thought they would see something like this take place.
Passengers Forcibly Removed
Passenger forcibly removed for making bomb threats or even jokes? Yep, no one has a problem there. Passenger forcibly removed for screaming and making inappropriate remarks/threats onboard? Yep, we have seen that as well. Even passengers who the captain feels uncomfortable flying with due to behavior observed have been forced to leave the plane.
As people are finding out now, it goes into the hands of the captain when the passengers are on the plane. If a captain does not feel comfortable with certain passengers/situations, he can request that they be escorted off the plane. The job of securing the safety of the aircraft and its passengers is in the captain’s hands and they can make calls about situations they feel threaten that safety.
What Is The Right Solution/Protocol For This Situation?
So, what will happen going forward now? What is the proper protocol for handling a passenger who refuses to get off the plane – especially when he makes a legitimate excuse to stay onboard? I’m sure many people would suggest that the United ground control staff offer him transportation to Louisville (under a 5 hour drive from Chicago) as well as the reimbursement he would be entitled to or even more to make it worthwhile for him to leave the plane.
But, what would that have said to the 3 passengers who did follow the instructions to leave the plane? Hold out longer next time and refuse to get off in hope of a better offer? Or, make up some excuse that sounds plausible as to why you need to be at your destination (I am not saying this passenger did that but there is really not a way to confirm what passengers say without it taking a long time and delaying the flight).
Higher “Bump” Compensation
United could have likely avoided what has become a very bad PR scene by taking the amount much higher. Offering vouchers is not really that big of a deal for an airline and bumping it up to even $1,600 would not have been a huge deal – certainly cheaper than what it is costing United now.
In fact, Delta was handing out $1,350 in American Express gift cards to passengers last week – with one family pulling in a total of $11,000 in funds before just deciding to stay home and not make the trip! So, United would not have been making themselves a target for passengers seeking compensation for bumps by offering much more. After all, it was United that needed to get these crew members to Louisville.
How Will Customers React Going Forward?
But, how will this event change the reaction of customers from this point forward? Will there be a fear whenever airline agents say that they will have to take passengers off the plane for things like overbooked situations or weight issues? Will airlines actually be able to get away with offering less for voluntary bumps because passengers will be afraid of what will happen if they refuse to take the voluntary bump – especially if there are police officers nearby?
Oversold Situation Fear
This has become such a huge story that I think it will absolutely affect passengers in how they react to these oversold situations. Since the airlines use algorithms to decide on things like involuntary removal (which are based on things like fare class, price paid, time of check-in, elite status, etc), many casual passengers will not have a clue if they may be the ones that will be forced to get off the plane. It will bring a certain element of fear to passengers, I believe.
Refusal to Move?
But, it could also go the other way with some passengers. There are many citizens who believe that issues should be stood up for to affect change and this may even make its way into situations like this. There may be passengers that will stand their ground and force airport police to come up with different ways of forcibly removing passengers.
However, at the end of the day, I believe that this situation has been a very bad one for United – no matter how much they believe they did things by the book and by the law. What could have been solved by the gate agents instead became escalated into a national story and will undoubtedly change how people deal with United. As we go into the heavy summer travel season (which will surely see many overbooked situations), I think passengers will be reacting very differently to these oversold situations, some out of fear and some out of a desire to change how these things end up.
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