The forceful removal of a United Airlines passenger from a flight on Sunday evening has sparked viral controversy and anger—so let’s take a moment to parse through the emotions and go over the raw facts:
1) What Caused The Incident?
Believe it or not, forcefully ejecting passengers from flights is quite common in the airline industry—well, except for the bashing-your-face-in part, that’s pretty rare.
On the evening of Sunday, April 9, United Airlines need to empty 4 seats so that their employees could travel to the destination from Chicago to Louisville. Passengers were offered $800 to disembark—a common practice in the industry—and that the flight would not depart until four people were chosen. A flight attendant eventually announced that four passengers had been chosen at random.
According to the company’s contract with customers, although passengers in these situations are supposed to be chosen at random, there are some limitations, including “unaccompanied minors and people with disabilities.”
2) Who Was The Unlucky Passenger?
Authorities have not yet released the identity of the passenger, though the Chicago Police Department said he is 69-years-old. According to witnesses on the plane, he insisted that no amount of compensation offered by United would be enough since he is a doctor and had to see patients the next day. The man’s Chinese ethnicity has sparked outrage from people in China, which also happens to be a large consumer market for United Airlines.
3) Is This Whole Thing Legal?
Believe it or not, United Airlines has a legal right to eject passengers from a flight.
The U.S. Department of Transportation indicates that 46,000 people were ejected from flights in the year 2015 alone. Airliners usually overbook flights in expectation of passengers who do not make the flight. However, there are some regulatory hurdles that companies must abide by before a forceful ejection, including first attempting to find volunteers willing to get off.
4) Why Wasn’t The Passenger Offered More Cash?
Department of Transportation regulations on this subject are quite clear: companies are generally given free reign to determine how much they compensate passengers. There is no “mandated form or amount of compensation that airlines offer to volunteers,” read DOT regulations, “Carriers can negotiate with their passengers for mutually acceptable compensation.”
However, there are certain situations that could spike the level of compensation, such as this case. Since the length of the man’s delay would have been “more than two hours later” than the original flight’s destination arrival time, then “the compensation [is] 400% of your one-way fare, $1,350 maximum.”
5) Legal Options If This Happens To You
The most obvious route is to sue. The Department of Transportation offers a guide to dealing with small claims courts here. Airlines will usually compensate you with money, or free flights, but do not use any vouchers from them if you plan to sue them, as this may disqualify your claims.
Social Media Meltdowns
Although it has been said that “all publicity is good publicity,” it’s hard to imagine how this incident will benefit United Airlines.
The online backlash has been brutal: