April 10, 2017

"A man on an overbooked United Airlines flight was forcibly removed from his seat and dragged through the aisle on Sunday..."

"... and video of the anguished protests by him and other passengers spread rapidly on Monday as people criticized the airline’s tactics."

That's the NYT report. Here's something in the WaPo report that isn't in the Times:
“He says, ‘Nope. I’m not getting off the flight. I’m a doctor and have to see patients tomorrow morning,’” [said Tyler Bridges, the passenger who made the video, about the man who refused to leave]...

The man became angry as the manager persisted, Bridges said, eventually yelling. “He said, more or less, ‘I’m being selected because I’m Chinese.’”
I can't bring myself to look at the video, but I'm not as sympathetic to this person as most people seem to be. I don't like the bumping of passengers, but if it's going to happen, and if the airline uses some random method to select the ones to bump, I don't see how the chosen person should be allowed to avoid the bad luck by refusing to leave.

Obviously, choosing people by race would be unacceptable, but this man seems to have resorted to that accusation only after his go-to I'm-a-doctor argument failed. That is, at first he argued in favor of discrimination, that he should get a special doctor privilege. That amounts to an argument that people with less important jobs should be discriminated against — class discrimination.

Maybe it would be a good idea for the airline to have a policy of giving doctors a special privilege over other passengers, but if it hasn't, I don't see why the doctor should get a different outcome through civil disobedience tactics, physically resisting. If the airline actually had a race discrimination policy, I would support resistance, but I don't believe that accusation. I think this was someone who, like everybody else who didn't volunteer to leave, wanted to stay on the flight. Should everyone willing to resist get to stay and the burden of the bumping fall on the people who are too polite and unselfish to go into resistance mode? I just don't understand how caving into people like this will work.

And, again, I don't like bumping, but my understanding is that airline fares are kept low by overbooking and bumping when needed. Doesn't everyone know they are exposed to that risk when they buy an airline ticket?

ADDED: This post already had a "hypocrisy" tag (aimed at the doctor), so check me for hypocristy by reading what I wrote back in 2004 about a bumping incident involving my sons:

Boo to American Airlines for demanding that one of my sons get off the plane going from O'Hare to Madison at 9 o'clock at night because the plane was overweight. I know there are real safety concerns about weight and removing one person may make a difference and a little weight really does matter on those small planes, but at 9 o'clock at night, with no later flight to take, couldn't you offer more freebies until you get a volunteer? Two people did volunteer, but American only needed to kick off one person and so it would only offer one of these two the measly $200 travel certificate, and the two volunteers didn't want to split up. So one of my sons had to leave, to get the next bus to Madison, at 11 pm, and arrive at the Memorial Union at 2 am--on a cold night, with no shelter open, and nothing warm to wear, because he hadn't worn a coat in Austin, and his luggage had traveled on the plane.

Many passengers on the plane witnessed how rudely my sons were treated and at least one came up afterwards to say how offended he was and how he was going to write a letter to the airline about it. What I simply cannot understand is: 1. If you are going to do something like this at least be scrupulously polite while you're doing it (instead, the method used was: if you don't leave right now, we'll still make you leave and you won't even get the $200 certificate!) and 2. Try much harder to get volunteers (for a second $200 travel certificate, the two volunteers would have left willingly, and everyone else on the plane would have kept a positive opinion about the airline; instead, many people felt really bad about the airline). By the way, I think I would have volunteered in that situation, because the idea of a small plane at its weight limit scares me. That's another reason why they should go for volunteers: pressuring someone makes everyone feel anxious and subject of the dangerous weight of the plane has got to make for some exquisitely bad feeling aboard!

It's interesting that there were seats for everyone on the plane, but the weight didn't add up right. Do you think in that situation the airline ought to pick on the heaviest passengers? Actually, I don't. Yet if I were in that situation, seeing someone being pressured off the plane because of the weight of the plane--especially someone obviously under the 185 weight airlines assume people weigh--I'd be glancing around at passengers to see who was bringing the most weight on the plane and thinking uncharitable thoughts. But that's one more reason why the airline should escalate the inducements until they get a volunteer.

UPDATE: The certificate was for $250, not $200.

AND JUST TO BE CLEAR: The airline was not singling out the heaviest passengers--my sons are way under 185. My point is that if the plane is overweight and that someone is going to have to leave, a certain common sense suggests asking the heaviest person to leave. One person is inconvenienced, either way, but the maximum weight is removed. If you see them trying to oust a thin person, don't you tend to think they ought to be going after somebody big? But they don't, for whatever reason. Fear of lawsuits? Desire not to seem mean? But they were mean!

CHRIS ADDS:
A couple points you missed on the blog about the American Airlines thing:

1) Three or four women working the gate inside the airport knew, and told John and me, that the airplane was overloaded, and even while it was being delayed never made a single announcement that it was overloaded. They knowingly overloaded the plane because they were too lazy to make an announcement over the loadspeaker that they needed a volunteer.

2) What they should do, if they're going to FORCE someone off the plane, is single out the person who checked the heaviest bag. They have that information--they weigh every single checked bag--and they could easily do it that way, something based on weight, without insulting people for being fat. Instead, they got rid of a thin guy, left all the [heaviest people] on the plane, and even left his bag on the plane.

Also, people inside the plane yelled at the guy for not allowing the couple that volunteered to leave the plane. Plus, they were completely unapologetic and even threatening towards us from beginning to end!

269 comments:

1 – 200 of 269   Newer›   Newest»
eric said...

The airline should just keep raising the coupon until someone leaves. If they don't leave for $800, go to $1,000. If no one leaves at $1,000, go to $1,200.00. Keep this going until someone decides it's enough money. Or don't overbook.

That is on the airline.

As for the police, I don't believe they did anything wrong here. Refuse to obey a command and you should expect to be made to comply.

rhhardin said...

You don't understand the system, which is to say the regulation and the economics.

They overbook so that the plane is full after no-shows.

The regulation is that they have to buy off volunteers to get off the plane.

That way it costs the airline a lot to overbook by very much, and the people who are bumped wind up happy.

When they went to random selection, they violated the reg. They have to raise the price until they do get a volunteer. They can't just bump anybody.

Otherwise there's no check on their overbooking number.

cubanbob said...

How about making overbooking a fraud. You book a seat, pay for the seat and oops we screwed up? If the airline needed those crew members at the destination for a later flight from the destination they should have paid someone to drive them there or fly them there on another carrier. The fare structure isn't the passengers problem. That is the carrier's problem.

CWJ said...

There's more to this story than simple overbooking.

rhhardin said...

The guy complaining is insisting on his rights.

Court suit to follow.

Charlie Eklund said...

I'm amazed that the airline's bumping policy includes ticketed passengers that have already boarded the airplane and taken their seats. Bumping is one thing; physically dragging bumped passengers off the plane seems to me to be quite another thing.

rhhardin said...

Overbooking is okay and expected; and a volunteer gets off, remember.

At least when they follow the regs.

tolkein said...

The deal is you ask for volunteers and offer enough for people to take the deal.
No sympathy for the airline. At all.

Bob R said...

The police beat the crap out of him! What do you mean they did nothing wrong? He was not violent or abusive. He was no danger to anyone. The cops who did this should be looking for a new job. They clearly are not cut out to be cops.

Bay Area Guy said...

It sucks to get bumped, but this Doctor is a total fool. What grown man goes limp like a child when they don't get what they want? Pathetic.

wwww said...


This was badly mishandled by United.

The first absurd mistake was seating the passengers and then removing.

Don't waste the customer's time by asking customers to go through the hassle of boarding and then removal. The passengers shouldn't have been seated if they needed to put their flight staff on board.

The second absurd mistake was not offering enough $$ to get volunteers. Yes, airlines can forcibly boot, but it's not a good business decision. Customers would be wise to avoid airlines that routinely engaged in this sort of behaviour.

The third was the insufficient statement by the current CEO.

Now United has a public relations situation. I imagine it'll cost a lot more then it would have cost to offer enough $$ to get volunteers.

Flying now is a ridiculous experience, and flying first class doesn't alleviate all of the issues. I would support higher fares and re-regulation to get the type of service we got in the 70s and 80s.

Farmer said...

Oh you really ought to watch the video. This guy is so full of shit. Cop moves in to pull him out of his seat and he starts screaming hysterically like he's being tortured, then he goes limp as they drag him down the aisle. What a twat.

LYNNDH said...

I read but do not know if true, that United needed the seats for another Flight Crew. This man's reaction to being booted and then resisting security (or were they cops?)is a mistake on his part. Kind of like the young drunk woman in Ft Collins, CO video, attacking and then resisting the cops. A big no no.
Having said that, United is the worst airline in the world. The crew on the planes are very arrogant and difficult.

Mike Sylwester said...

The airline should have bumped all the passengers who were wearing leggings.

St. George said...

It's amazing this sort of thing doesn't happen more often.

On a recent flight during the pre-takeoff safety announcement, the stewardess, oops, flight attendant said something like "If the oxygen masks descend, put one on--after you've stopped screaming..."

Really funny.

You have wonder how much training some of these folks get.

tcrosse said...

They could have left the guy alone and instead bumped the annoying woman who was Oh-My-Godding through the whole thing.

cubanbob said...


"As for the police, I don't believe they did anything wrong here. Refuse to obey a command and you should expect to be made to comply."

What law did the passenger break? The cops should have refused the airline. They should have told the airline pay someone else enough to make it worth their while. They ought to be fired for using force for a non-criminal matter.

exiledonmainstreet said...

I would be upset if I were bumped, but this doctor behaved like a 2 year old.

What is it with adults who cannot seem to exercise restraint in public? We have college kids shouting down speakers and rioting, women practically killing each other over some stupid piece of crap at Walmart on Black Friday, professors who feel justified in berating Ivanka Trump on a plane - everyone's howling id is out there on display.

Earnest Prole said...

Eric: Exactly. Paying market price for booting passengers is fairest to everyone -- including United, who will now suffer multi-million-dollar losses as a result of this dumb incident.

AllenS said...

Agree with Cuban Bob at 4:05.

Ann Althouse said...

The NYT article says:

"Airlines routinely sell tickets to more people than the plane can seat, counting on several people not to arrive. When there are not enough no-shows, airlines first try to offer rewards to customers willing to reschedule their plans, usually in the form of travel vouchers, gift cards or cash."

It doesn't say the airline is required to keep offering more and more money until they get their volunteers. If that's a regulation that binds airlines, why doesn't the article mention it? Can you point to the regulation?

madAsHell said...

I think the doctor story was bullshit.

I was once on a plane to LA with a couple of ostensibly Rabbis. They had all their luggage in the overhead. They managed to convince the flight attendant that they had a connection to make. They were allowed to leave the economy class seating first.

I caught up with them at the taxi stand.

Rick said...

St. George said... [hush]​[hide comment]
You have wonder how much training some of these folks get.


The cop has been suspended.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

The airline had every legal right to kick the passenger off, with no more compensation that providing an alternative flight, and maybe meals/hotel during the wait. If you don't believe that, read the fine print the next time you buy a ticket.

And I have zero sympathy for the kicked-off passenger. He was dragged off because he chose not to go under his own power. He should probably face criminal charges.

But the airline screwed up the PR, big-time. For PR purposes, they should have kept increasing the offer until they got a taker. And they never should have let someone on the plane unless they are able to transport them. It's much less of a PR problem to stop someone at the gate rather than dragging them off the plane.

David said...

Squee! Squee! Squee!

rhhardin said...

Paying to bump was the plan back in the 70s when this came up. A free market solution.

Ann Althouse said...

"The police beat the crap out of him! What do you mean they did nothing wrong? He was not violent or abusive. He was no danger to anyone. The cops who did this should be looking for a new job. They clearly are not cut out to be cops."

I didn't say "they did nothing wrong." I didn't watch the video and I had nothing to say about the tactics that were used to physically removed him. I only said that I am less sympathetic to the man than others seem to be.

Assume there's involuntary bumping — I hear those of you who are saying there shouldn't be any, but assume that for the sake of argument — and tell me how an airline is supposed to deal with a person who refuses to be bumped. Just say okay and move on to someone else? Everyone then should refuse. I guess if you are unwilling to force anyone to leave, then that's where it will end up, with everyone refusing and the policy will need to be abandoned, and fares will presumably go up.

traditionalguy said...

I like a race to the seat winner/loser rule. The first person to sit down wins. That makes it a basic musical seats game. But woe to the polite. Only the rude shall inherit a trip across the earth. Otherwise bribing the crew that hacks the computer for better seat assignments will become the system...like First Class and Business Class.

Seriously, the moment you walk on a Airline you are in a prison with all powerful guards. So the Professor is right: submit or else.

madAsHell said...

What law did the passenger break?

None, but isn't the captain responsible here? If the captain wants you off the airplane, then security will remove you from the plane.

Larvell said...

They weren't bumped because of overbooking -- they were bumped because United wanted their seats for United employees (who presumably could have gotten from Chicago to Louisville by some other method, although perhaps more costly to United). So the message United sends is that United and its employees are more important than paying customers -- which is not a good message if you want more paying customers.

Ann Althouse said...

"The first absurd mistake was seating the passengers and then removing."

I think that's what happens all the time. They have to get people boarded to stay on schedule. They've overbooked because they're predicting some no shows. They don't have a final count until the last minute. The people need to be on the plane. It's not an "absurd mistake," it's just airlines operating efficiently because people want low fares.

rhhardin said...

Just as a matter of contract, they guy has to be left as well off as he would be on the flight, and obviously the free market price of a bump is much higher than they were offering or somebody would have taken it.

He paid. Now it's on the airline to make him whole.

rhhardin said...

The fares would be even lower if they overbooked triple the plane capacity.

Bill Peschel said...

The one thing I don't get was how did they decide who to bump? A list? Pulling numbers out of a hat?

Ann writes: " They don't have a final count until the last minute. "

But if everyone's on board, how did they determine they were overbooked? It sounds like an extra flight crew showed up literally at the last minute and demanded seats.

I wonder how this works with seat assignments. If you're assigned a seat, you should be the only one sitting there.

(I know, I should read the articles.)

mockturtle said...

For whom was this passenger bumped? And why should he/she receive priority over someone who has a valid ticket and is already on the plane? Guess I don't get it.

M Trumble said...

There is a plane full of people. If no one takes the first offer, you make it a better deal until someone does take it. Even if United had paid another passenger $5.000 for the seat, it would have cost them far less than this eventually will.

They sold this guy a seat, boarded him on the plane, probably loaded his luggage. It is on them to make it worth someone'e while to give up their seat, not to arbitrarily toss someone.

Unknown said...

""The first absurd mistake was seating the passengers and then removing."

I think that's what happens all the time. They have to get people boarded to stay on schedule. They've overbooked because they're predicting some no shows. They don't have a final count until the last minute. The people need to be on the plane. It's not an "absurd mistake," it's just airlines operating efficiently because people want low fares."

That is not the situation here. The situation here was the "must flys" the four United employees they needed to find room for. There are situations where the airline does not know they have 'must flys' to accommodate before they've boarded the paying customers.

rhhardin said...

The right move is to take over the microphone and conduct the auction that the airline should be conducting, and find the bump price.

Then say "there" to the stewardess. There's your guy. Pay him off.

Ann Althouse said...

"What law did the passenger break?"

I'd have to research the statutes, but off hand, it seems like trespassing and disorderly conduct. And I didn't see what he did to the police officers — who I don't think were trying to arrest him, just move him.

eric said...

Blogger cubanbob said...

"As for the police, I don't believe they did anything wrong here. Refuse to obey a command and you should expect to be made to comply."

What law did the passenger break? The cops should have refused the airline. They should have told the airline pay someone else enough to make it worth their while. They ought to be fired for using force for a non-criminal matter.


The airport and the airline do not belong to this man. He was given a lawful order to leave and refused to comply. If you refuse to comply with lawful order by police, the police are authorized to use force to ensure your compliance.

Set aside the legalities. Assume this man had a perfectly legal right to remain in his seat. Answer Ann's question. Should we give the more obstinate​ person the veto and only remove the compliant people?

What should the police have done when he refused to obey? Found someone more compliant?

Ann Althouse said...

"The right move is to take over the microphone and conduct the auction that the airline should be conducting, and find the bump price...."

"Right" in the sense of that's how you'd run your airline? I see you've abandoned the argument that there's a regulation imposing that method.

madAsHell said...

We have an old friend that is a flight attendant, but hasn't flown in years. She keeps giving her shift away. She's a trust-afarian. She doesn't need the work, but she does like to travel.

At one time, she was very familiar with certain flights that were always over-booked. She would make a reservation for the over-booked flights, and then snag the benefits when she gave up her seat.

rhhardin said...

The local crew didn't know the drill. Show it to them. It weakens their remove-by-force resolve.

rhhardin said...

The Captain can remove anybody he wants for any reason. The airline is in deep financial trouble for it though.

Ann Althouse said...

"Just as a matter of contract, they guy has to be left as well off as he would be on the flight, and obviously the free market price of a bump is much higher than they were offering or somebody would have taken it. He paid. Now it's on the airline to make him whole."

There were conditions on the contract that included the airlines right to bump. I suspect the fine print says all you get is another flight. That's your contract.

As for the free market, which you seem to like, you're ignoring the part of the market that occurs at the front end, when the passenger gets a particular price that is what it is in part because the airline retains the power to bump.

readering said...

I don't think removing boarded passengers happens all the time. I've never seen it and I fly a lot. I will be surprised if it turns out that regulations on bumping apply to passengers who have already boarded the aircraft. I don't see any excuse for what United did in bumping a boarded passenger when the airlines already divide boarding into a gazillion categories and you know if you are in the bottom group you have a very good chance of not being boarded. (Has happened to me.) Was he a jerk? Perhaps. He was also pushing 70 so I can't understand how security took the risk of causing a heart attack or serious injury by forcibly removing him.

Does this mean that we effectively discriminate against people who weigh less than 200 lbs? (Doubt they would drag someone off who weighed as much as Donald Trump.) Would they split up a party?

This was crazy in so many weighs. Airline stopped offering more at $800. They will be spending way more than $800 trying to fix this situation.

walter said...

"Don't bump me bro!"

rhhardin said...

You do see how the reg gets rid of womanish worries about race and gender and doctors.

An inability to reason structurally.

rhhardin said...

You don't get to see the fine print until after you pay.

rhhardin said...

The airline has the power to bump by paying off the people it bumps.

If you're saying that the price is low because the airline screws people, that's against the rule of law. No fraud and no force.

rcocean said...

Have you ever had do deal with the public in a service job?

I have. They're assholes. For some reason, SOME people think that because they're the "customers" - the business is supposed to treat them like royalty. Not you're not a king because you bought a ticket (or a meal).

They overbooked the flight, and UAL has the right to bump you. You get paid according to DoT regulations, if you get bumped.

If you don't like it. Sad.

eric said...

Blogger madAsHell said...
What law did the passenger break?

None, but isn't the captain responsible here? If the captain wants you off the airplane, then security will remove you from the plane.


Yes. The airline more generally.

If the airline wants you out, that's what the police are there for.Just like any business that wants you removed from the premises.

You leave when the police tell you to leave. Then you take it up later with the airline, or business.

Why does anyone think you should get away with it if you refuse to obey an order from the officer to depart someone else's property?

That's just nuts.

AllenS said...

They've overbooked because they're predicting some no shows.

Ah, don't you have to pay for your ticket before you board? Pretty sure that you do. Wouldn't that mean, if there are some no shows that the airline would be still have been already paid for the vacant seats?

Check out the cost for an airline ticket that you paid for 3 weeks before the flight, and the cost of an airline ticket for the same flight for tomorrow.

AJ Lynch said...

I guess it is still OK to pick on Asians.

Amexpat said...

The big mistake here is that involuntary bumping should be done before boarding. Once you have a seat assigned, have boarded and sat down, the seat should be yours. Airlines do overbook, but they normally don't assign the same seat twice. What should happen is that the last person to check in would not get a seat assigned and would have to wait at the gate to see if someone would voluntarily give up their seat.

I heard on CNBC that the problem here was that United needed the seats to get some crew to get on that flight to to get to another United flight. Under those circumstances, I would not leave my assigned seat voluntarily.

rcocean said...

The Doctor went limp and "resisted arrest" because he knew their was $$$ in it.

We've created incentives for minorities (of all kinds) to cry racism and discrimination. There's no blowback for lying - and you can always get sympathy and possibly $$$.

Its gotten to the point where every other "hate crime" is a fake.

Earnest Prole said...

United Airlines illustrates what every grandmother knows: just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do something.

rhhardin said...

There should be $$$ in it. They didn't offer him what he was willing to take.

rcocean said...

Why not just designate certain seats as "bump seats" and give a discount when selling the ticket?

Or conversely, sell people a "No bump" ticket and charge more.

rhhardin said...

Why not just conduct the auction and get a volunteer?

Mark Caplan said...

East Asians -- the good minority -- are supposed to be docile, rule-abiding, and socially cooperative. This guy never got the memo.

rcocean said...

"They didn't offer him what he was willing to take."

Its already in the DoT regulations what you get. When you bought the ticket you entered into a contract. The guy got treated according to the contract.

rhhardin said...

You not only get a volunteer, you get the least costly volunteer. win-win.

Balfegor said...

Re: CWJ:

There's more to this story than simple overbooking.

My guess is that because of some kind of scheduling delay elsewhere in the system, someone timed out, and they ended up having to switch in new crew at the destination location. I've seen United scramble to switch around crew assignments seemingly at the last minute for time-out issues several times, so that's probably what happened here. If it were overbooking alone and seating of the crew were planned in advance, then they wouldn't have had to pull people off the flight to allow space for the crew -- they just wouldn't have given the passengers seat assignments in the first place (or so one would hope).

I'm sympathetic to the man who was being removed from the plane in the sense that he paid for a seat, he actually boarded and he's now being told to get off. That's painful.
But when the crew tells you to get off the plane, you follow crew instructions without question, and your expectation ought to be that you will be arrested if you refuse. I'm surprised the man was let back on the airplane after he made a scene.

rwnutjob said...

If you paid for a flight, have an official boarding pass from the airline, & are boarded, you are on. Figure it out some other way. Why him?

Of course, they could have given him a Pepsi.

rhhardin said...

What you get, according to my recollection, is whatever an auction produces.

walter said...

Resist he much

Hari said...

I'm interested in whether the airline was still offering the $800 when it decided to force the passengers off the airplane.
Were they in effect making the passengers an offer they couldn't refuse: $800 and walk off or zero and we'll select someone randomly and throw you off?

Putting aside the fact that this will likely never happen again, because of the adverse publicity, was the airline in effect signaling it's negotiating strategy: Make a deal when you have the chance, or you get nothing.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

First of all. IS he really a doctor? All we have is his word. Actually, his screaming fit. I'm skeptical.

IF yes. Then what kind of doctor? Podiatrist. Brain Surgeon. Doctor of acupuncture? What? How crucial is his presence or not presence to his patients? Are they going to die? Have delayed surgeries?

So. Supposing he is a doctor and his presence isn't life or death for someone else....why should his inconvenience be more important that mine or someone who is flying in for a personally important event. Like a wedding or funeral.

What about those who will miss their connecting flights if bumped? That almost happened to me when I was working with Edward Jones. They payed for and scheduled the flights from SF to St Louis. In Salt Lake City, they wanted to bump people and I didn't take them up on the offer because my next two connecting flights... would have also had to be rescheduled which meant that I would be late or even miss the corporate event that I was supposed to be attending. Nope nope nope. Find someone else with time on their hands and who didn't HAVE to be somewhere.

Another time, we were offered a bump but didn't get the chance to take it because someone else jumped on the offer. It would have meant and extra day in Las Vegas, paid for hotel room and about $300 cash. SWEET! We didn't have any place to be and darn it....we were just a bit late going to the ticket gate person to accept.

AllenS said...

DoT Flying Regulation 30587: We reserve the right to kick your mother fucking ass when we want you off the airplane.

rcocean said...

"East Asians -- the good minority -- are supposed to be docile, rule-abiding, and socially cooperative."

I wouldn't go to him as a Doctor. If he can't handle a simple airline situation, I wouldn't trust him with a surgery or a diagnosis.

Gabriel said...

Overbooking is a mathematical necessity, if the plane is not to leave with empty seats.

If there's 300 seats sold to 300 people and 99% of passengers show up, then there is only a 5% chance that the plane leaves completely full and about an 80% chance it leaves with up to 5 seats empty. On the average 2.7 passengers don't show. Over thousands of flights the costs of foregone fares add up.

But if 300 seats are sold to 308 passengers then the plane has an 99.7% chance of leaving full, with on the average 5 passengers having to have something found for them but never more than 8.



rhhardin said...

If it's dead-heading crew, they can put one in the jump seat behind the pilot.

Steve said...

I understand the practice of overbooking, and that this practice generally leads to overall lower ticket prices. I'm O.K. with tat in general. What disturbed me most in this incident is that United Airlines bumped four paying customers off this flight because they had four employees on standby who "needed to get to a meeting Monday morning." Passengers on standby are just that: on standby, and it seems wrong to me that ticketed customers on the plane were bumped off the plane for someone on standby, for no better reason than the convenience of United's management. The appropriate response is to say to the United employees, sorry, there's no room for standby passengers on this flight. I've taken the voucher offer for people on standby who've made a compelling case through the agent, e.g., family emergency, but why should United employees' meetings take precedence over my meetings, my plans, my patients, etc.?

cubanbob said...

Assume there's involuntary bumping — I hear those of you who are saying there shouldn't be any, but assume that for the sake of argument — and tell me how an airline is supposed to deal with a person who refuses to be bumped. Just say okay and move on to someone else? Everyone then should refuse. I guess if you are unwilling to force anyone to leave, then that's where it will end up, with everyone refusing and the policy will need to be abandoned, and fares will presumably go up."

So you are arguing since overbooking might subsidize your airfare it's ok to occasionally force people off flights they purchased so you may fly cheaper than you might have otherwise?
Let's assume United had other alternatives such as chartering a private plane to fulfil the carriage obligation to the bumped off passenger.

Paddy O said...

"That is, at first he argued in favor of discrimination, that he should get a special doctor privilege. That amounts to an argument that people with less important jobs should be discriminated against — class discrimination."

This turns the event into a lesson in values clarification (and a flashback to Christian music from the '80s). Can you say values clarification?

Mary Beth said...

I don't think they were overbooked, I read that they were trying to get a crew to St. Louis for a Monday flight. Seems they could have figured out that they needed to do this before they boarded passengers.

dreams said...

CNBC has shown that video all day long. I bet UAL is not feeling warmly about CNBC today. Regardless of what passengers agree to, I predict when they eventually settled with this guy, he'll be well compensated for their ill treatment of him.

One of the security guys has been placed on leave.

Michael K said...

"They've overbooked because they're predicting some no shows. "

Sure but one way to deal with that is to just bump the last passengers who arrive at the gate.

I do have to laugh because I am a doctor who gets called sometimes to travel to another city to see patients or applicants to the military.

I don't approve of the screaming and wailing but, just as I was starting to type this comment, the company that handles the scheduling called me to work Wednesday. I asked her if that was one of their doctors who got forced off the plane. We both laughed and she said "It could have been."

The timing was perfect.

dreams said...

Here is the video.

http://www.wdrb.com/story/35110990/update-officer-who-dragged-man-off-united-plane-to-louisville-placed-on-leave

Ambrose said...

Am I right in recalling that Ann does not fly? Lack of empathy.

mockturtle said...

Why not just designate certain seats as "bump seats" and give a discount when selling the ticket?

Or conversely, sell people a "No bump" ticket and charge more.


Makes sense to me. I've never seen anyone bumped from a flight once boarded. Ever.

maskirovka77 said...

I tend to agree with the sentiment that you have to comply with the flight crew's lawful orders when you are onboard the plane. However, I also think the United people dealing with this were extremely foolish to force someone off the plane who had paid for his seat and been seated. Like other people have said here, the smart solution would have been to keep raising the incentives until someone decided it was worth it to give up his or her seat.

Thorley Winston said...

It doesn't say the airline is required to keep offering more and more money until they get their volunteers. If that's a regulation that binds airlines, why doesn't the article mention it? Can you point to the regulation?

I looked up the statute and airlines are only required to offer a bumped passenger (a) twice the amount of the fare to their next stop (up to $675.00) if they provide alternate transportation or (b) four times the amount of the fare to their next stop (up to $1350.00) if they don’t provide alternate transportation. So if it would have cost $200.00 to fly to this guy’s next stop, they only had to offer him $800.00 (presumably they could offer less when they were looking for volunteers).

Balfegor said...

Re: Larvell:

They weren't bumped because of overbooking -- they were bumped because United wanted their seats for United employees (who presumably could have gotten from Chicago to Louisville by some other method, although perhaps more costly to United).

That may or may not be true. Airline regulations require a certain amount of down time between shifts for the crew, including a certain amount of uninterrupted sleep, and it's possible -- if United needed the crew for an early morning flight -- that the alternative flights wouldn't give the crew the mandatory sleep time. There's a fair number of flights to SDF, but not that many.

The alternatives I see are an American flight at 6:40 pm, and a 9:00 pm flight on United. The 6:40 -- if it had vacancies (I suspect not, given that the 5:40 United flight in question here was full) -- would probably have worked, given that the 5:40 was delayed 2 hours and still seems to have met whatever deadlines United was working with (i.e. a 10:01 pm arrival worked). The 9:00 pm flight would have got them in at 11:22 pm, which might not have worked, e.g. if they were needed as crew for the United flights departing SDF at 6:05, 6:55, 7:30, or 8:05. Maybe 9:20 as well (the rule, Google tells me, is 10 hours between shifts). Who knows what the real story is here, but there's not so many flights between Chicago and Louisville that one that "presume" there were alternate means of getting this flight crew there.

Also, driving looks like it would take around 5 hours, i.e. if they left promptly at 5:40 pm, they'd have arrived in Louisville around 11:40 pm -- quite possibly too late.

The easier route might have been to find surplus crews at a different hub with routes to SDF (e.g. IAH), but none jump out at me as great alternatives.

Anyway, I'm drawing all inferences in United's favour here, but the point I want to make is we don't really have the information necessary to say United could have found alternate routing for their crew. It's quite possible they couldn't, and it seems quite plausible to me that they couldn't. They do seem to cut things quite fine quite a bit, in my experience. And I fly on them a lot.

DanTheMan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Dolan said...

"'Right' in the sense of that's how you'd run your airline?"

I'm not sure what the original commenter meant by "right," but I suspect that United now agrees that they should have used that auction approach -- indeed, any approach but the one that played out here (and will replay, over and over again, on the web). The reports say that United needed to get four passengers to give up their seats to accommodate 'crew members' -- a factoid sure to impress every paying customer of United. When an offer of $800 as incentive didn't free up the last one, the airline resorted to the old heave-ho with this unfortunate fellow (and paying customer). In the process, United created a marketing disaster for the Friendly Skies. Unfortunately for them, it's one that resonates with so many airline passengers for whom flying is already viewed as an unpleasant form of travel to be endured as best you can and avoided whenever possible. (I note that Alhouse herself seems to prefer long car rides.)

I saw a follow-up video posted about this, showing the unfortunate doctor (assuming as I do he is one) re-boarding the plane, with his face all bloodied. Apparently, the airline then had to empty the plane to clean up the blood before it could take off. This was a snafu so colossal in its boneheadedness as to be worthy of the TSA. Not an organization that United should be trying to emulate.

I don't think United really wants to defend what happened here with the argument that the airline had reserved the right, in fine (or even not-so-fine) print somewhere, to bump ticketed passengers when it suits their needs (because of overbooking generally, or as here because they apparently needed the seats to get off-duty crew members home). I assume that the airline had that right, but it's hardly something that they want to publicize.

Etienne said...

I haven't been to an airport since 1993.

I recommend that for others. Anyone who flies commercial is supporting, and paying for, a police state.

"If you are going to where the Nazi's are, don't complain about the ovens."

rhhardin said...

Remember when you're accepting buyouts, that the payment is taxed as income. Raise your bid.

gravityhurts said...

The only bumping I have seen took place before boarding. The first class boarded while they kept calling for volunteers. They never really announced the payment for not boarding. People were going up to the desk to inquire. When a member of my group went up to ask about giving up our four seats it was already done.

Tom said...

Um, the chances a Chicago cop acted reasonably is damn near nil. If the airline wanted the guy off the flight to accommodate united airline employees (who could have easily driven the 4.5 hours to Louisville), they could have just made the rest of the flight wait until he was pressured to get off or they could have upped the ante until someone said yes. Either way, the face bashing has hurt the airline even though I'm assuming that's not what the airline wanted. Think about this - what's the chances that if the guy was black, the cops would shoot him? It's greater than zero.

If I were Delta, I'd offer every United Airline status holder a one status tier boost match to come fly with my airline. And I'd do it while everyone is ticked.

Paddy O said...

The trouble with the otherwise good "raise the incentives" idea is that if people knew this was the policy, they'd wait out the incentives to max them.

This is why I love Southwest. Very direct in every way. I've never been in a situation where they were overbooked. Plus, 2 checked luggage for free. It's a budget airline in most every respect, but has crept up in comparative services as the rest of the airlines have gotten much worse. I used to try flying Alaska when flying along the West Coast, but they had the consistent habit of canceling my entire flight and rebooking me without telling me beforehand, sometimes earlier flights that conflicted with work.

Bob Boyd said...

I wonder how the airline selected him. Do they choose from passengers who have not checked a bag?
I think it's prohibited to fly with a bag if the person who checked it is not on the flight. They have to go into the hold, find the bag and take it off, resulting in delay.

If they can't get any takers for vouchers, maybe they should boot the person who bought their ticket last.

Terry Vance said...

I haven't seen any references to the "United Breaks Guitars" video. You can have a laugh and annoy United by driving up the Viewed number.

I don't believe anyone should be publicly humiliated. Once you have your boarding pass and are in your assigned seat, you should be done. If I'm seated at a restaurant and a better customer arrives, sure the restaurant can try to induce me to give up my table (free dessert, probably. Free drinks, definitely). However, no one wants to see the restaurant use force to throw out a patron who is only being singled out because of the restaurant's mistake. I'd respect United a little more if they chose their bumpees randomly, but saying in effect "you are the least desirable customer on this plane" is also pretty offensive.

I only wish all 4 had refused to get off.

mockturtle said...

Richard Dolan notes: Unfortunately for them, it's one that resonates with so many airline passengers for whom flying is already viewed as an unpleasant form of travel to be endured as best you can and avoided whenever possible.

Exactly, Richard. The 'Friendly Skies' tag will only elicit snickers now. Was it worth it? I think not.

DanTheMan said...

>>I'd have to research the statutes, but off hand, it seems like trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Disorderly conduct? That's pure bootstrapping for a police officer on the scene... "I'm giving you an order to leave based on a civil contract which I cannot enforce. Then if you object, I'll arrest you for objecting." Why not arrest him in court for hiring a defense attorney and contesting the charge if that's the standard?

Trespassing is almost as bad. United gave him permission to be on the plane. In fact, he paid for that permission. It would be difficult to say he's on the plane without permission, which would be required for a straight trespassing charge.

The only way I think the police have the authority to remove him (again, in my state where I'm most familiar with the statutes) would trespass after warning. He would have to be notified by the owner of the property (or a designated agent: in this case I would only accept the captain's authority)in writing and in the presence of police officer. The captain would have to order him to leave directly, in person, and unconditionally in the presence and sign the warning personally. I would then read the guy his Miranda rights and ask him if he intended to stay onboard.
Only then do you have a legal basis to remove him. That's not to say you *should* remove him. In that situation, as the officer on the scene, I would exercise maximum discretion and do everything I could to convince the flight crew that they really needed to rethink what they were asking me to do.

But before I did ANY of that, I would pull the captain aside and ask "If he says no, do you REALLY want me to drag him kicking and screaming out of here?"

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

What law did he break? I believe the exact phrase is "Federal aviation regulations require compliance with all crewmember instructions." Whatever they tell you to do, you have to do.

Balfegor said...

Re: Bob Boyd:

I wonder how the airline selected him. Do they choose from passengers who have not checked a bag?
I think it's prohibited to fly with a bag if the person who checked it is not on the flight. They have to go into the hold, find the bag and take it off, resulting in delay
.

I don't think that's quite right -- if you make your connection but your bag doesn't (e.g. because you are connecting through Heathrow or LAX or some other third world hellhole and it got routed wrong), I think they still put it on the next flight available. I know they were still doing that as late as 2008, i.e. it did't disappear after 9-11. Maybe they've stopped it since and you have to fly to pick up your bag?

Bob Boyd said...

"He says... I’m a doctor...”

Probably a psychologist.

dreams said...

Regardless of the agreement that passengers sign, its going to cost UAL to re-accommodate this guy. Beware, most everyone has cell phone cameras.

Ann Althouse said...

"So you are arguing since overbooking might subsidize your airfare it's ok to occasionally force people off flights they purchased so you may fly cheaper than you might have otherwise?"

No. Not my airfare. I choose to avoid airplanes. The conditions suck.

But all benefit from lower fares, and all are exposed to the risk that they will be among the bumped. This system exists because it seems to be what the people who fly do want. Any given individual is hoping to be lucky and not involuntarily bumped. If people wanted the product to be bump-free enough to pay more for tickets, I suspect that there would be some airlines offering this deal.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Oh you really ought to watch the video. This guy is so full of shit. Cop moves in to pull him out of his seat and he starts screaming hysterically like he's being tortured, then he goes limp as they drag him down the aisle. What a twat.

This. I have no sympathy for this guy. Guess what; everyone wanted to get home. You're not special because you're a doctor. Everyone else on that flight had plans for the following day. We've all been stranded and had to stay overnight. Shit happens. Read your contract of carriage. Deal with it.

mockturtle said...

Etienne asserts: I recommend that for others. Anyone who flies commercial is supporting, and paying for, a police state.

We can't all afford private Lear jets. Many of us have, or have had, to travel for business purposes and can't imagine going coast to coast by train or Greyhound bus.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

So the message United sends is that United and its employees are more important than paying customers -- which is not a good message if you want more paying customers.

No, the message is that United was trying to avoid stranding other paying customers for lack of crew.

Sorry to be an asshole but some of these comments are very exasperating.

Danno said...

Bill Peschel said..."But if everyone's on board, how did they determine they were overbooked? It sounds like an extra flight crew showed up literally at the last minute and demanded seats.

I wonder how this works with seat assignments. If you're assigned a seat, you should be the only one sitting there."

Maybe with the flight delay, United could see that the crew would time-out under the Hours of Service rules, before they could fly out of Louisville and keep the plane's schedule for that day. Airline schedules are very complex systems with equipment, crew, and passengers all with different needs or rules applying.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...


The way to get the airlines to change their practices is not to be submissive.

Good luck with that, dingbat. Until people sprout wings and can fly across oceans or you find a train that can get you from LA to NY in six hours you're stuck with what they give you. Throwing a tantrum like a baby is not going to magically win you different treatment.

DanTheMan said...

>>I believe the exact phrase is "Federal aviation regulations require compliance with all crewmember instructions." Whatever they tell you to do, you have to do.

"Hi, would you please take this pot of hot coffee and dump it all over the the guy in 12B? You have to do it, because I'm a flight attendant and I say so."

Etienne said...

I only got bumped once. That was back in the 80's, on Christmas no less. They offered me some bonus (I forget what it was) but I just went across the aisle to another airline, and got on standby. They took me, and I got home on the last plane to land before the airport closed.

As it was, the airline I was originally on had to stop in Memphis first, and by the time they got to OKC, the airport was closed, and they had to go to Dallas. My flight was direct.

I was happy with the outcome, but I know many people missed Christmas with the family.

I suspect I was bumped because I had a one-way ticket. Who knows though, maybe they didn't like my hat.

The Godfather said...

a. Like every other experienced airline passenger, I know about overbooking. I did, however, assume that once I was on the plane and in my seat, I was safe. If they make me give up the seat my ass is in, I will make a big stink about it (but not what this guy did).

b. I have some sympathy with the passenger (I guess I should say "attempted passenger") in this case, but what about those of us who lose our transportation because the entire flight is cancelled? Shouldn't we scream and holler and curse the airline? A few years ago my wife and I were supposed to be flying to England from IAD, and the flight was cancelled. The airline told us we could be accommadated on a different flight in 24 hours. So we would miss the departure of our tour. Another time, flying from RDU, we were told that our flight would be delayed because of weather, so we would miss our connection to Europe. In both instances, we (mostly my wife) kept calm and talked things through with the airline, and they figured out a next-best alternative. Afterwards in both cases I wrote a stern letter to the airlines, and received a polite apology. That's not a bad way to handle things.

Bob Boyd said...

@ Balfegor

I don't know for sure. One time a guy decided to get off the plane at the last minute and we were kept waiting for quite a while while they found and removed his bag. We were told they couldn't fly if the passenger wasn't going with his bag. This was in 2005 on a transatlantic flight.

In your example, the passenger has already shown he was willing to get on the plane with his bag. Maybe it's only if the passenger makes the call not to go on the flight with his bag, which is a red flag. If he's involuntarily bumped, maybe that's different.

mockturtle said...

After watching the videos, I am surprised his pants weren't pulled down while being dragged down the aisle. Then there would have likely been a lawsuit for sure.

Danno said...

The policy from United, which I copied from a comment on reason.com, rather than look it up:

"4. Compensation for Passengers Denied Boarding Involuntarily

a.For passengers traveling in interstate transportation between points within the United States, subject to the EXCEPTIONS in section d) below, UA shall pay compensation to Passengers denied boarding involuntarily from an Oversold Flight at the rate of 200% of the fare to the Passenger's first Stopover or, if none, Destination, with a maximum of 675 USD if UA offers Alternate Transportation that, at the time the arrangement is made, is planned to arrive at the Passenger's Destination or first Stopover more than one hour but less than two hours after the planned arrival time of the Passenger's original flight. If UA offers Alternate Transportation that, at the time the arrangement is made, is planned to arrive at the Passenger's Destination or first Stopover more than two hours after the planned arrival time of the Passenger's original flight, UA shall pay compensation to Passengers denied boarding involuntarily from an Oversold Flight at the rate of 400% of the fare to the Passenger's first Stopover or, if none, Destination with a maximum of 1350 USD. "

rhhardin said...

The trouble with the otherwise good "raise the incentives" idea is that if people knew this was the policy, they'd wait out the incentives to max them.

It's an auction. You can't wait because somebody else will take your money.

Earnest Prole said...

Other airlines use auctions to solicit volunteers to be bumped, and now I suspect United will too. Isn't capitalism great?

DanTheMan said...

>>and not involuntarily bumped.

I think you have a reasonable point about accepting the risk of being bumped.

I don't think you have a reasonable point if you mean to imply that passengers have somehow accepted the risk of being dragged down the aisle by their feet if they are bumped.

dreams said...

I think he screamed because his head was knock against a head rest smashing his mouth, he had a bloody mouth and when he somehow managed to reenter the plane he left a lot of blood on the plane and so they had to remove all the passengers so they could clean up the blood.

Balfegor said...

Re: DantheMan:


I don't think you have a reasonable point if you mean to imply that passengers have somehow accepted the risk of being dragged down the aisle by their feet if they are bumped
.

But I do think you accept the risk of being dragged down the aisle by your feet if you refuse crew member instructions.

AllenS said...

"4. Compensation for Passengers Denied Boarding Involuntarily

a...

b. A free ass kicking.

vanderleun said...

"I can't bring myself to look at the video, but I'm not as sympathetic to this person "

Ann,
Pull yourself together before firing the keyboard. That's about the most clueless statement of your since the never to be forgotten "Nig Pajamas."

It's one thing not to run with the herd. It's another to be as clueless as a copper drill trying to penetrate steel.

tcrosse said...

At least he wasn't a Syrian refugee.

dreams said...

The passenger was wrong but clearly the airline didn't handle the situation correctly and therefore they will have to suffer the consequences when they eventually settle with this guy, to re-accommodate him as per the UAL CEO's initial tone deaf statement.

DanTheMan said...

>>refuse crew member instructions.

Again: crew member instructs you to urinate on the guy in 12B. You refuse. So the cops get to haul you feet first off the airplane?

Again, the fault here is shared between United and the police officer who removed him.
United, for being stupid enough to order him removed, and the police officer for being stupid enough to do it, rather than find a better solution.

Police officers have A LOT of discretion. Otherwise they'd spend all day citing drivers for going 36 in an 35mph zone. That's a violation. I never worked with anyone who wrote a citation for that.

vanderleun said...

She obviously oversold her callous reaction to this with her "Hypocrisy" update concerning a small plane. Passenger weight isn't a problem on regular passenger aircraft. But she slung it in there because she didn't know how to walk it back after it blew up into the very biggest thing on the Internet today. At Memeorandum this PM it was Thugs vs Asians all the way down. Haven't seen it like that since Sarah Palin and, oh yes, the Nig Pajamas thing.

Kevin said...

"That is, at first he argued in favor of discrimination, that he should get a special doctor privilege."

Privilege beats victimhood. The privileged know that, which is why the expansion of victimhood is not seen as a threat.

Drago said...

I'm surprised Putin lets United get away with this type of behavior.

Renee said...

But he was already on the plane and in a seat.

Being bumped at the gate? Ok. Fine.

On the plane. United should of hired a private charter to get their crew where they needed to be.

vanderleun said...

"not the cops. (Don't they have other business to attend to in Chicago, then in enforcing the airlines' stupid business decisions? I think they do...)"

Don't think these were regular cops at all. Buzzfeed got the runaround on this.

Probably just some BLM wannabes between crack pipe hits.

Roger Sweeny said...

In The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker quotes this widely-circulated email (that he admits is probably an urban legend):

During the final days at Denver’s old Stapleton airport, a crowded United fight was cancelled. A single agent was re-booking a long line of inconvenienced travelers.

Suddenly, and angry passenger pushed his way to the desk. He slapped his ticket down on the counter and said, I HAVE to be on this flight and it HAS to be first class!

The agent replied, I’m sorry sir, I’ll be happy to try to help you, but I’ve got to help these folks first, and I’m sure we’ll be able to work something out.

The passenger was unimpressed. He asked loudly, so that the passengers behind him could hear. Do you have any idea who I am?

Without hesitating, the gate agent smiled and grabbed her public address microphone. May I have your attention please? she began, her voice bellowing through the terminal. We have a passenger here at the gate WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHO HE IS. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to gate 17.

With the folks behind him laughing in line hysterically, the man glare at the United agent, gritted his teeth and swore F you. Without flinching, she smiled and said, I’m sorry sir, but you will have to stand in line for that too.

DanTheMan said...

Here's my question. Who was:
a) Dumb enough to order the guy forbibly removed in front of other passengers
b) And had the authority to make that decision.


United, you have a problem. At least one person you have promoted into a position of authority is a moron with no common sense.

Airport PD: Ditto.

Original Mike said...

This is beyond the pale. Fortunately, United will pay through the nose for this.

n.n said...

choosing people by race would be unacceptable

Until it is not only acceptable but legal and "good". [class] diversity.

dreams said...

UAL, don't try this behavior with your Muslim passengers.

dreams said...

I think they were the airport's cops.

William said...

The secret is to start yelling Allah Akbar as you're being removed. This encourages volunteers to leave.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Here's my question. Who was:
a) Dumb enough to order the guy forbibly removed in front of other passengers
b) And had the authority to make that decision.


United, you have a problem. At least one person you have promoted into a position of authority is a moron with no common sense.

Airport PD: Ditto.


So when someone whose presence the crew determines to be a danger does not want to leave the flight, your plan is that the airline and the airport PD should just go ahead and leave them there?

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

P.S. Giving ridiculous examples re crewmember instructions does not help your argument

Passengers who do not follow [reasonable and flight-safety related] instructions are dangerous and unpredictable passengers, and the crew will not risk them doing weird and squirrely shit while in flight which would endanger everyone on the flight.

vanderleun said...

""What law did the passenger break?"

I'd have to research the statutes, but off hand, it seems like trespassing and disorderly conduct."

Time for you to head out to "The Tomorrowland Cafe" Ann. You're losing this one.

As one of my pals who is an attorney used to quote:

"If you have tried and made your point..... sit down and shut up. If you have tried and failed to make your point... sit down and shut up."

dreams said...

"Other airlines use auctions to solicit volunteers to be bumped, and now I suspect United will too. Isn't capitalism great?"

And sunshine is the best disinfectant, beware of cell phone cameras.

AllenS said...

So, a man prepays for an airline ticket. Proceeds to the airport and presents his prepaid ticket, and is told to board the airplane. Once on the airplane he is told that he is trespassing, and that he needs to leave. He refuses and has his ass kicked. Is that what just happened? And, the passenger is in the wrong?

Michael said...

I saw a gate att rant close the door on a flight and the guy next to me on the phone (back in the pay phone bank days) called out and said he was on that flight and his family was on it. Sorry, said the gate attendant, you should have heard the announcement. The guy decked the gate attendant and was carried off by cops. For the next few weeks I felt like gate attendants were more polite.

Recently a drunk and her husband were removed from a flight to the cheers of those of us who had heard her bitching about some harm the airline had done to her. The airlines are less patient with belligerence than they once were.

The current issue is one where The airline screwed up. Overbooked flights are dealt with before boarding with the gate agent asking for volunteers before the boarding begins. I suspect the crew issue came as a surprise but more volunteers could have been bribed before the contretemps. 2 first class tickets anywhere would have freed up two seats immediately at zero cost to the carrier.

The "Doctor" did himself no good with the prancing. He was doomed the moment he started that shit.

Original Mike said...

"It doesn't say the airline is required to keep offering more and more money until they get their volunteers. If that's a regulation that binds airlines, why doesn't the article mention it? Can you point to the regulation?"

It needs to become the law. What is more fair than upping the payoff until spmebody takes it? I have less than zero sympathy for the airlines.

Original Mike said...

Personally, I'd ban overbooking.

Original Mike said...

Blogger rcocean said..."Why not just designate certain seats as "bump seats" and give a discount when selling the ticket?

Or conversely, sell people a "No bump" ticket and charge more."


Yep.

Renee said...

The only other industry is hotels that may overbook, but usually smaller places. Still it's unusual.

http://www.littlehotelier.com/r/distribution/booking-sites/eliminate-nightmare-overbooking-double-bookings-booking/

wwww said...

I think that's what happens all the time. They have to get people boarded to stay on schedule. They've overbooked because they're predicting some no shows. They don't have a final count until the last minute. The people need to be on the plane. It's not an "absurd mistake," it's just airlines operating efficiently because people want low fares.


When is the last time you've flown? They call out for volunteers by the gate before loading.

It is not only absurd, it's bad for PR & bad management of resources. Gate should know how many seats they need before they let the plane load.

& yes it's legal to overbook & rebook. But this was incompetence.

Jim Gust said...

Professor Althouse, you need to watch the video.

The airline may have the right to bump, but they do not have the right to commit assault and battery. What was done to the doctor before he was dragged from the flight was obviously unreasonable and excessive force. The thug who beat him was wearing blue jeans. When did that become part of the police uniform? Who was that guy?

I crossed United off of my list of acceptable airlines long ago, and this has reinforced by resolve. This was inexcusable. I will pay a large premium to avoid United and their thugs.

The worst part of this story is that a planeful of passengers watched a thug beat up a doctor and did not lift a finger to help, because they were all too happy to still be on the plane.

wwww said...



I fly much too often for work. overbooking is fine if the airline handles it well, This was badly handled.

I remember United from when O'Hare had 1 people mover. Miss the days of the Red Carpet Club, It's sad what it's become.

lilredhen84 said...

United says they have the right to remove passengers when overbooked. I have two concerns about this: 1) The rules say they can ¨deny boarding,¨ but this passenger had already boarded! 2) They were NOT ¨overbooked.¨ They wanted the seats to move employees waiting on standby. Seems to me they are trying to justify commandeering seats using a rule that does not cover that.

What do you think?

Original Mike said...

Blogger Paddy O said..."The trouble with the otherwise good "raise the incentives" idea is that if people knew this was the policy, they'd wait out the incentives to max them."

You've neglected to consider this is a reverse auction. If somebody wants the deal but decides to wait, he'll probably lose it.

Danno said...

Blogger Original Mike said..."Personally, I'd ban overbooking."

So you advocate going back to the regulatory era before Jimmy Carter?

Most domestic coach class flights were $3-5 hundred dollars back then and planes were only 75% full. We still have many flights in that price range today, thanks to deregulation.

Original Mike said...

"So you advocate going back to the regulatory era before Jimmy Carter?"

No, I'd ban overbooking, nothing else. I buy a ticket, they owe me a seat. But there are acceptable free market solutions, as have been mentioned here:

Free market solution #1: Raise the bumping offer until somebody takes it.

Free market solution #2: Sell more expensive tickets that are not at risk of bumping. I'd buy one every time.

mockturtle said...

What I never liked about United is having to change planes at O'Hare. Northwest at least hubbed at Minneapolis/St. Paul. But I didn't usually have a choice.

R.J. Chatt said...

I think you do have to show up within a certain time prior to boarding or you lose your seating assignment. I haven't flown in a while but I recall in one airport a number of people waiting to see if ticket holders did not show up. I think it was called flying standby. I can also recall both being seated in a plane as well as pre-boarding and being asked over a loud speaker if anyone would be willing to delay their flight. I never heard of a situation where someone had to be chosen randomly because there were no volunteers. In this case there were four people chosen and they were not chosen because of race, as far as I know. If they had all been Asians then he might have a case.

I am reminded of a lawsuit where an older woman, Renee Rabinowitz, sued El Al over being asked to move because an orthodox Jewish man didn't want to sit (for eleven hours) next to a woman he wasn't married to. She strongly objected on principle but she did move and eventually sued the airline for sexism. She was a retired lawyer and a grown up. I can't imagine a mature person, let alone a doctor, behaving like a two year.

DanTheMan said...

>>P.S. Giving ridiculous examples re crewmember instructions does not help your argument

I agree, but you started it. :)

And saying ridiculous things like a man who is upset about asking to leave a flight he's been seated on and paid for is a "flight safety danger" does not help yours.

Just for the record, Pants, I always read your comments and almost always agree. I just think you are wrong on this one.

khesanh0802 said...

Here's Molly Hemingway's suggestion: use capitalism to get a passenger off. Raise the price until it rings someone's bell. Given the ridiculous negative publicity United would have been better off flying the crew on a chartered plane than doing what it did. No matter the cost of the chartered plane it couldn't be anywhere near that of the awful publicity that United received - and certainly not worth the lost sales that United is going to incur. Would you fly on United now?

wwww said...



I think that's what happens all the time. They have to get people boarded to stay on schedule. They've overbooked because they're predicting some no shows. They don't have a final count until the last minute. The people need to be on the plane. It's not an "absurd mistake," it's just airlines operating efficiently because people want low fares.


It's absurd unless United is fine with the PR from this fuck up.

If United is good with the press, well, then you are right. If United regrets the bad publicity, then I am correct.

United as a right to bump. But they could have offered more $$ to get volunteers. They also could have figured this out prior to boarding.

Both tactics would have avoided this unfortunate situation.




Earnest Prole said...

Bad airline press rarely falls from blue skies. United has had crappy customer service for thirty years.

Clyde said...

I just booked three flights for my summer vacation. I wouldn't even consider flying United at this point.

Michael K said...

The secret is to start yelling Allah Akbar as you're being removed. This encourages volunteers to leave.

Thread winner.

I fly Southwest now domestic. One time about five years ago, I was on a nonstop to Baltimore.

About Kansas City I hear, "Is there a doctor on board?" I thought, "Oh shit."

Some foreign looking guy jumps up and volunteers. I thought, "Thank God !"

We land and a women is taken off the plane. We take off again.

About Atlanta, I hear, "Is there a doctor on board?" I thought, "Oh no!"

The same guy volunteered. We landed at Atlanta. Longest Southwest flight I've been on, About 7 hours.

DiMar said...

Haven't flown United in a long time! Airplanes are old and crappy and the flight attendants are mean and nasty! Will continue my boycott of United. Since when do you ask people to consider taking a later flight with mucho money AFTER they are seated on the plane! That sucks and should not happen again! Oh and by the way the security person should be fired!

DanTheMan said...

>>The secret is to start yelling Allah Akbar as you're being removed. This encourages volunteers to leave.

This also insures that you will not be removed from the plane. Just ask the Flying Imams.

AllenS said...

United Pilot: "Is there a doctor aboard? We just kicked someone's ass."

AllenS said...

aboard = on board

Douglas said...

This is going to cost United untold millions in adverse publicity, which it could have avoided by (i) paying to fly its standby crew to Louisville on another airline or (ii) paying whatever it cost to induce some passenger to voluntarily give up his seat. United thought it could save a few bucks by calling the cops instead of resorting to the free market.

Yes, I know that the fine print in the contract says that United can bump passengers and pay them a pittance. The problem is that United already treats its passengers like shit, so this on top of being treated like shit is a viral storm that United richly deserves.

wwww said...

Bad airline press rarely falls from blue skies. United has had crappy customer service for thirty years.


Things went downhill a long time ago. Got worse when a lot of employees lost their retirement pensions.

I try to avoid United. Delta or Alaska is generally better service.

Mrs Whatsit said...

Ann, until you watch the video you really don't understand what happened here. Watch it before opining about how sympathetic you are or aren't. This isn't really about overbooking at all, it's about the disproportionate use of force against someone whose only "crime" was wanting to stay on the plane. The man was physically hauled out of his seat (over the armrest, which appears to be caught on his hip in the video), smashed head-first onto the floor and against the opposing seat and then dragged by his arms on the floor from the plane, with his glasses askew, his shirt up under his arms and blood coming out of his mouth. If the airlines do have the right to treat someone like that -- someone who did nothing wrong beyond refusing to get off the plane after the airline first sold him a seat and then changed its mind after letting him board -- then it's time for the rest of us to think twice about flying.

Plus, he wasn't removed to make room for overbooked passengers - he was removed because the airline wanted the seats for its STAFF, who needed to make some kind of connection. This was just a complete screwup by United.

Clyde said...

So Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat and she's a hero, but this guy doesn't, is brutalized, and Althouse thinks that he is a hypocrite?

Sid said...

So, here is UA's contract of Carriage. https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/contract-of-carriage.aspx

Under what subsection does "You have to leave if we have employees that we want to have your seat?"

I could not find anything that looked applicable, but IANAL.

gspencer said...

United Airlines,

The efficiency of the Post Office,

with the compassion of the IRS,

MadisonMan said...

The police beat the crap out of him!

Chicago police. At least he's still breathing.

I won't fly United -- it's Delta for me. United is saddled with OHare, the pittiest of airports.

Like others. I've never seen a boarded passenger removed, and I've been flying a lot lately. I will also never take a voucher as compensation...because I'm sick of flying. Cash only. (And that's never happened). I usually want to get home, and will not give up my seat. Especially if I'm already in it.

Laslo Spatula said...

This many comments and no one suggested the obvious?

Stewardess.

Blow Job in the plane bathroom.

Matter settled.

I would call it the "Get Off" program.

I am Laslo.



Original Mike said...

"I will also never take a voucher as compensation...because I'm sick of flying. Cash only."

I hate flying. A free airline ticket would be like a free dose of the clap. No thank you.

DanTheMan said...

A free dose of clap? I think Laslo has you covered on that...

Sally327 said...

The flight was 2 1/2 hours late getting off the ground so I'm wondering if the 4 Republic Airways employees ended up missing whatever flight they were supposed to be trying to catch in Louisville. Which would be kind of funny.

I think the whole thing is kind of funny. Here's United Airlines getting everyone on board the plane and seated and then coming on to say, oops...sorry...4 people have to get off, not so 4 paying passengers can fly in your place, oh, no, it's so 4 employees of our "sister" airline can get to their jobs on time....we need volunteers, who will help us solve our problem? Bueller? Bueller?

Okay nobody's going to go willingly so we'll pick 4 of you "randomly"...and you know how you can tell it's random? Because we picked a guy who was, possibly, the only person on the plane who was absolutely not going to cooperate. And he'll be elderly and someone who says he's worried about getting to his own job on time and he won't willingly give up his seat and help this multi-billion dollar corporation solve its self-made problem. No, he will not move. So he will be moved, snatched across the seats and slammed to the floor and dragged up the aisle.

The funniest part is that after they get him off there he manages to break free and runs wildly back onto the plane. Dude! They don't want to fly you, don't you get it? What part of bloodied and bruised do you not understand?

Ann Althouse said...

I've stated no position on the amount of force and do not intend to.

Ken B said...

Eric and rhhardin are right. The airline should keep raising the compensation until they get a taker. This is simply yet another example of a market at work. The doctor is wrong to cry race, but he is right to demand that he, and the rest of the passengers, be offered a chance to sell their seat back to the airline.

Perhaps someone else would have been content with 500 bucks, and the doctor not.

Once written, twice... said...

Ann does not watch the main piece of evidence (the video) but still has a strong opinion about the case. THANK GOD Ann did not practice law or become a judge.

Ken B said...

I read some of Althouse's responses. So I will yell.

THERE IS NEVER A NEED FOR AN "INVOLUNTARY" BUMP. MAKE IT VOLUNTARY BY BUYING THE SEAT AT AUCTION. The seller gets at least what being bumped is worth to *him*.

Unknown said...

Not only was the flight no longer overbooked(*) when they attempted to bump paying passengers to make room for airline staff, but the section dealing with overbooking is consistently phrased as "denied boarding" and there's no provision it in for removal of boarded passengers. Contrast the section dealing with for-cause "refusal to transport" where they specifically spell out at the top that this can include removal from the airplane.

(*) Some stories said that prior to boarding they paid off passengers to voluntarily give up their seats.

Ken B said...

Jeez Althouse, just call rhhardin "islamophobic" and be done with it. It would make more sense that your complete disregard for economics or the logic of a market.

And it is easy to imagine a regulation supporting his suggestion: "fair compensation " . The only way to find a "fair" price is a *market*. Fair compensation comes from his auction suggestion, and not from giving the airline the ability to just pick at random.

wwww said...


I remember O'Hare before it became the L'Crap O. And the Red Carpet club before it became crowded and what the hell do they call it now anyways?

I'm happy to pay more for better service. But the problem extends far beyond buying a first class ticket.

Business travellers often have no choice but to fly economy. At the last company I worked for, Directors and below were all flying economy. That means you've no choice but to take the ticket bought for you & be subject to the worst type of treatment/service on these flights. Every year quality of service goes down.

Passengers do care, but airlines don't much respond to passenger wishes because there's not a lot of choice. There's a virtual monopoly in many places. Other airlines with better quality get bought out by the big ones who target them with price wars.

The airlines care about stock prices, not customer wishes. More competition would help, but it's a brutal business.

I know this is not likely to happen, but I am all for re-regulating the airlines. If that's not possible, I'm for the federal government imposing a minimum standard of quality -- seat pitch, leg space, food/ water/ beverages/ checked luggage.

Ken B said...

"I've stated no position on the amount of force"
False. Hardin points out a way to do it with NO force. You endorse using more than no force.

320Busdriver said...

Of course the captain can ask for someone to be removed prior to closing the door, but in a case like this where the removal was due to overbooking and is generally a function of the boarding process, he/she will probably not get involved unless a crewmember is in danger. This is normally a csr function. Once the door is closed the captain is the ultimate authority.

All airlines have protocals to handle such events. If someone has to be deplaned, the matrix to decide who that will be could depend on fare classes and time of check in, but under normal circumstances preventing someone from boarding will be much less disruptive.

Original Mike said...

For those who don't have time for the video, here's a single picture.

Once written, twice... said...

Ann always supports the Strong Man. Even the cartoonish Strong Man. (See her being gaga over Trump.)

wwww said...

The funniest part is that after they get him off there he manages to break free and runs wildly back onto the plane. Dude! They don't want to fly you, don't you get it? What part of bloodied and bruised do you not understand?


My God. He's mumbling "Go home want to go home" or something to that effect. I wondered if he was knocked unconscious for a few seconds and he wasn't mentally 100%. His shirt is still up around his chest.

320Busdriver said...

The airline(s) having found itself in this unfortunate situation is not interested in holding an auction on the aircraft at push time. The downstream effects of delaying the flight indefinitely are not worth it.

Leigh said...

@ Althouse -- the entire point of the story is the use of force. Another passenger who saw the incident first-hand just appeared on Tucker Carlson. He said the man took such a blow to the head when the "police" smashed it on the arm rest that he was unconscious when the "police" dragged him off the plane by his arms. And as others here have pointed out, this was not an over-booking problem. United had 4 crew members it needed for a flight out of Louisville.

You practiced law once, right? If you had a jury trial the next morning, or a big summary judgment hearing, you'd be pretty damn upset about being bumped, too. Why do you assume the doctor was using "privilege"? A more plausible explanation is that he was trying to meet his obligations to his patients. For all we know, he was on his way to do a life-or-death organ transplant.

Yes, he should have voluntarily left the plane. United made that plain. But his refusal is at least understandable. Presumably we will get more details about the story tomorrow. Though, given United's so-called "apology," which was "we are sorry we had to re-accomodate this passenger," it doesn't sound like the story is going to get better for United. In any event, the thugs or "police" could easily have removed him without rendering him unconscious.

@rhhardin -- the vouchers are taxable income? Good grief. Is that taxable income net of the money you paid for the original ticket? Is it net of any personal injury you suffered because you were bumped?

After the endless security lines, the TSA cattle-herd beatdown and feel-ups, trying to figure out how much liquid can be packed, the coming-soon ban on ipads and laptops ... well, forget it. Flying is a total nightmare.

Original Mike said...

"The airline(s) having found itself in this unfortunate situation is not interested in holding an auction on the aircraft at push time.'

I don't think what the airline is interested in should be controlling, but I also think it would be pretty fast for the attendant to ask, "Who will leave for $800? No one? Who will leave for $900?" Certainly going to get the police is not a fast process.

Big Mike said...

As a former frequent flyer I have more sympathy for the traveler than for United. The alleged doctor (we have only his word that he is one) might very well have been in an "I must be there" situation -- perhaps he was aware of something that made it impossible to find another doctor to take his rounds for him, or perhaps he was under some form of contract that made missing his rounds for anything other than a severe and highly communicable disease a firing offense. Possibly he was due in surgery the next morning. I don't know, and frankly, Althouse, neither do you.

Also, the flight wasn't overbooked -- paying passengers were bumped (for a pittance!) so that non-paying passengers could be accommodated. That's just wrong. It might have been expensive to get those non-paying passengers to Louisville, but I suspect that this episode cost the airline vastly more. Except that it wouldn't have been all that expensive, would it? Note that United 3411 is from O'Hare to Louisville, which is four to five hours away by Interstate. United could have rented a car for its four employees and told them to take turns driving and share driving chores.

Finally, I am fully in agreement with those who've written that it was a total screw up to seat passengers on the plane and then forcibly remove them. United was asking for trouble, and has apparently gotten it by the truck full. Breaks my heart.

Against that, if I absolutely positively had to be somewhere by some specific time I never booked the last flight to my destination. Bump me from a flight that leaves at 4:00 but there's another flight at 7:15? Yeah, okay. Flying the last flight of the day from some airport is okay only if it's my last leg and I'm on my way home. Wife will be just as happy to see me bright and early the next day as late at night.

Original Mike said...

"My God. He's mumbling "Go home want to go home" or something to that effect. I wondered if he was knocked unconscious for a few seconds and he wasn't mentally 100%. His shirt is still up around his chest."

Yeah, he clearly had a head injury.

Ken B said...

Who paid for the police?

What were the costs of delays?

Can anyone deny it would have been cheaper, and landed the costs on United not the taxpayers, to keep bidding higher?

And how much has this publicity cost United? And when we get obtuse regulation here in response, such as banning over booking, how much will that cost? But god forbid Althouse should admit rhhardin was ever right.

Gerard Grosso said...

“"...I don't like the bumping of passengers, but if it's going to happen, … I don't see how the chosen person should be allowed to avoid the bad luck ..."
WOW! i find this so preposterous and outrageous I'm in danger of falling on the floor in a dead faint! Oh, yes, I follow your lawyerly logic, Ann:... 'If airlines default, renege and cheat on ALL legitimately booked and paid passengers, it's simply "bad luck" if one chosen passenger suffers the airline imposed consequences - being physically assaulted and abused. Hey, just "bad luck", dude, at least they didn't take you to the gallows or the ovens!
And, Ann, I see you didn't bother to mention that apparently the seats were needed to transport airline crew members?! OK, anyone here who is not a crew-member, up against the wall!
Gag me.
It looks like time to re-regulate the unregulated airlines....not to mention re-civilize them. A booked/paid passenger is NOT a cheap pawn, he/she should be the king/queen.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

No offene, ma'am, but this sure seems like one of those situations where you usually ask people to THINK DEEPLY about how things look, about hidden reasons behind choices, about unrecognized biases, about alternate POVs, and on and on.
In this particular case you've just accepted the stated motivations and reasoning of the relevant parties at face value. Seems unusual.

Sally327 said...

"My God. He's mumbling "Go home want to go home" or something to that effect. I wondered if he was knocked unconscious for a few seconds and he wasn't mentally 100%. His shirt is still up around his chest."

I know. It's hysterical. They beat him up get him off the plane and then I guess they just dumped him somewhere, maybe so they could get to the next incident needing their special pacification talents. And he's disoriented and still focused on his last thought before these esteemed representatives of airport law and order showed up, which is...I want to go home, I want to go home. Very Dorothy in Oz. Maybe he should have knocked his heels together three times.

We live in disturbingly surreal times.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

The only analogy I can come up with is eminent domain. Now I wonder how the Professor feels about Kelo.

BDNYC said...

This is so repulsive. They didn't want to pay enough to get four volunteers, so they sicced the cops on a paying customer. They treated him worse than a trespasser.

Gerard Grosso said...

Ann Althouse says: "...I've stated no position on the amount of force and do not intend to."
Double 'Wow!' and OMG, I say!
Is there any decent and human moral choice at all here other than NO "amount of force" whatsoever is acceptable in such a circumstance?!

M Jordan said...

This story is the perfect storm of Bad Behaviors on Display. Every single actor in this episode failed: United in loading the plane first; the crew or whoever decided to stop the bidding at $800; the "doctor" in grabbing his armrest, resisting, screaming like an animal, forcing them to drag him down the aisle; the police for doing the dragging; the incredibly obnoxious woman wailing on the audio, "Oh my God look what they're doing to him;" the passengers who all started filming to get their moment of viral glory; and United again for their first attempt at recovering the situation.

I name this play "The Ugly Americans." Really, I'm sad for our country. Thanks, Obama. (I kid.)

DanTheMan said...

I see at least one Hollywood moron is blaming... Trump.

Me, my money is on Global Warming.

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