United CEO apologizes after video of O'Hare passenger dragged from flight goes viral

Videos of a United Airlines passenger being forcibly dragged from his seat to make room for airline crew members on a Sunday overbooked flight at O'Hare International Airport have been viewed more than 1 million times, and the airline's CEO on Monday called the incident "an upsetting event to all of us here at United."

"I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened," United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement Monday. Munoz said the airline is trying to reach the passenger to "further address and resolve this situation."

In videos of the incident aboard an United Express flight bound for Louisville, Ky., a man screams as security officers pull him from his seat. He then falls silent as they drag him by the hands, with his glasses askew and his shirt pulled up over his abdomen, down the aisle. Several passengers yell at the officers. "Oh my God, look at what you did to him," one woman yells.

The aviation security officer who pulled the man from his seat was placed on leave Monday, "pending a thorough review of the situation," the Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement. "The incident on United Flight 3411 was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure and the actions are obviously not condoned by the department," the statement read.

United confirmed passengers were made to give up their seats for crew members that needed to work on flights departing Louisville. "Had they not gotten to their destination on time, that would have inconvenienced many more customers," said United spokesman Charlie Hobart.

The United Express flight was operated by Republic Airways, and the four crew members were Republic employees, he said.

It wasn't clear why the airline waited until passengers were in their seats to bump them from the flight.

Another passenger on the flight, Tyler Bridges, said United asked for volunteers at the gate to take a later flight, offering $400 and a hotel stay. Bridges, of Louisville, said passengers were then allowed to board the flight.

Once the flight was boarded, passengers were told the plane wouldn't depart until they had four volunteers, Bridges said. United increased the offer to $800, but no one raised their hand.

Bridges said passengers were then told a computer would select four passengers. When the man who was removed was selected, he contested, saying he was a doctor who needed to see patients Monday morning. Bridges' wife, Audra, posted a video of the incident on Facebook, which has been shared more than 49,000 times and viewed 3.8 million times.

The man was warned that security would be called if he didn't leave, Tyler Bridges said. After security personnel came and spoke with him, he still refused.

"It was clear he wasn't going to come off unless they were to drag him off," Tyler Bridges said. "He was resisting any way he could. He was flailing his arms a little bit and yelling."

After he was removed from the plane, Tyler Bridges said the man reboarded the aircraft. Tyler Bridges posted a video on Twitter showing the man, who United has not identified, hurrying down the aisle, saying repeatedly, "I have to go home. I have to go home."

United replied to one of Tyler Bridges' tweets, saying "Tyler, this is very concerning. Can you please provide the flight number and details via DM? Thank you."

Hobart said employees followed United's procedures in seeking volunteers and, when unsuccessful, explaining the situation to the customers it chose to bump and involving law enforcement if a customer refuses to follow the airline's rules. United is reviewing the incident, he said.

Airlines bump passengers off overbooked flights all the time, but it's rare for them to do so after passengers are already in their seats, said Brian Sumers, airline business reporter at travel industry website Skift.

"If you do it by the gate, you may make someone very upset, but you're never going to get in a situation where you need to forcibly remove them," Sumers said.

It's also unusual that United was unable to find passengers willing to give up their seats in exchange for the travel vouchers.

Travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt questioned why United didn't simply offer a larger sum.

"Everybody has their price. If they had allowed the agent to offer a higher incentive, we may never have heard about this," said Harteveldt, founder of Atmosphere Research Group.

Hobart said United tries to come up with a reasonable compensation offer, but "there comes a point where you're not going to get volunteers."

At that point, United's contract of carriage says the airline can select passengers to bump to a later flight, based on a priority system that can take into account how much passengers paid, how often they fly, whether missing that flight could affect a connecting flight and how early they checked in. People with disabilities and unaccompanied minors are generally last to be bumped.

Usually, passengers — however angry — comply with the airline's orders. But even if it's an unusual situation, it raises questions about what rights passengers have when being removed from a flight against their will, Harteveldt said.

"I think United is going to have to take a look at how it handles involuntarily denied boarding when passengers are already on the plane," he said.

Even if United was following all its policies to the letter, the situation calls for some flexibility in offering extra compensation or considering moving to the next name on the list when a passenger flat-out refuses to budge, said Harteveldt.

The damage this incident has caused to United's reputation may already be irreversible, at least for some customers, said Matt Rizzetta, CEO of New York-based public relations firm North 6 Agency.

"It certainly doesn't bode well for their immediate future in terms of customer loyalty and customer retention," he said. "There's a significant portion (of customers) they've already lost."

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Video shows man forcibly removed from United flight from Chicago to Louisville

A video posted on Facebook late Sunday evening shows a passenger on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville being forcibly removed from the plane before takeoff at O’Hare International Airport.

The video, posted by Audra D. Bridges at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, is taken from an aisle seat on a commercial airplane that appears to be preparing to take flight. The 31-second clip shows three men wearing radio equipment and security jackets speaking with a man seated on the plane. After a few seconds, one of the men grabs the passenger, who screams, and drags him by his arms toward the front of the plane. The video ends before anything else is shown.

A United spokesperson confirmed in an email Sunday night that a passenger had been taken off a flight in Chicago.

"Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked," the spokesperson said. "After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate.

"We apologize for the overbook situation. Further details on the removed customer should be directed to authorities."

Bridges, a Louisville resident, gave her account of the flight Sunday night.

Passengers were told at the gate that the flight was overbooked and United, offering $400 and a hotel stay, was looking for one volunteer to take another flight to Louisville at 3 p.m. Monday. Passengers were allowed to board the flight, Bridges said, and once the flight was filled those on the plane were told that four people needed to give up their seats to stand-by United employees that needed to be in Louisville on Monday for a flight. Passengers were told that the flight would not take off until the United crew had seats, Bridges said, and the offer was increased to $800, but no one volunteered.

Then, she said, a manager came aboard the plane and said a computer would select four people to be taken off the flight. One couple was selected first and left the airplane, she said, before the man in the video was confronted.

On Monday, United released a statement from CEO Oscar Munoz: "This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation."

Bridges said the man became "very upset" and said that he was a doctor who needed to see patients at a hospital in the morning. The manager told him that security would be called if he did not leave willingly, Bridges said, and the man said he was calling his lawyer. One security official came and spoke with him, and then another security officer came when he still refused. Then, she said, a third security official came on the plane and threw the passenger against the armrest before dragging him out of the plane.

The man was able to get back on the plane after initially being taken off – his face was bloody and he seemed disoriented, Bridges said, and he ran to the back of the plane. Passengers asked to get off the plane as a medical crew came on to deal with the passenger, she said, and passengers were then told to go back to the gate so that officials could "tidy up" the plane before taking off.

Bridges said the man shown in the video was the only person who was forcibly removed.

"Everyone was shocked and appalled," Bridges said. "There were several children on the flight as well that were very upset."

The flight was delayed around two hours before it could fly to Louisville, and it arrived in Kentucky later Sunday night. No update was given to the passengers about the condition of the man forcibly removed, Bridges said.

The Chicago Department of Aviation said Monday afternoon that it had placed the security officer who pulled the man out of his seat on leave pending a “thorough review” of the situation.

The aviation department said in an emailed statement that the incident wasn’t in accordance with its standard operating procedure and the officer’s actions “are obviously not condoned by the Department.”

The department confirmed that all three men who were seen on video talking to the man who was removed from the flight were aviation security officers.


United Passenger Dragged From Overbooked Flight

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. A police officer involved in the episode has been placed on leave, the authorities said.

At least two passengers documented the confrontation on the flight, which was scheduled to depart Chicago O’Hare for Louisville, Ky., at 5:40 p.m. but was delayed two hours. Their videos show a police officer in plain clothes wrestling the man from his seat and dragging him by his arms, as his glasses slid down his face and his shirt rose above his midriff. Uniformed officers followed.

Charlie Hobart, a United spokesman, said in a telephone interview on Monday that “we had asked several times, politely” for the man to relinquish his seat before force was used.

“We had a customer who refused to leave the aircraft,” he said. “We have a number of customers on board that aircraft, and they want to get to their destination on time and safely, and we want to work to get them there.

“Since that customer refused to leave the aircraft, we had to call’’ the police, and they came on board.

The Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement that the incident “was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure,” and an officer had been placed on leave pending a review of the episode. The department declined to identify the officer.

A passenger, Tyler Bridges, said that when he arrived at the gate about 20 minutes before boarding, United had announced that the flight was overbooked; the airline was offering $400 vouchers to anyone who would give up their seat, Mr. Bridges said in a telephone interview on Monday.

Nonetheless, the passengers boarded the plane.

“There was no indication anything was wrong,” Mr. Bridges said.

An airline employee came on board and said United needed four people to get off, he said, adding that the airline had by then increased its incentive to an $800 voucher.

Mr. Hobart confirmed that United had sought volunteers to relinquish their seats with compensation, but none stepped forward.

Another United employee told passengers that the plane would not leave until four people got off, Mr. Bridges said. The employee then specified that the airline had four United employees who needed to get to Louisville, he said.

Four passengers were selected to be bumped, and three left without incident, Mr. Hobart said.

Mr. Hobart would not say whether the bumped passengers were chosen by a computer, human or some combination of the two. But factors can include how long a customer would have to stay at the airport before being rebooked, he said, and the airline looks to avoid separating families or leaving unaccompanied minors.

A United employee first approached a couple that appeared to be in their mid-20s, Mr. Bridges said, and the pair begrudgingly got off the plane. Then the United employee went to a man five rows behind Mr. Bridges, and told him he needed to get off the plane. The man told the employee, “I’m not getting off the plane. I’m a doctor, I have to see patients in the morning,” Mr. Bridges said.

“We explained the scenario to the customer,” Mr. Hobart said. “That customer chose not to get out of his seat.”

The situation became uncomfortable for the United employees who then got on board and took the vacated seats, Mr. Bridges said. They were berated by passengers and told they should be ashamed, he said.

The man who had been removed returned to the flight briefly, Mr. Bridges said, and was removed again. Video shows him jogging through the aisle, repeatedly saying: “I have to go home.”

Mr. Bridges said he chose to post video of the episode to Twitter because “It felt like something the world needed to see.”

In a statement, Oscar Munoz, the chief executive of United Airlines, called the episode “an upsetting event to all of us here at United.”

He said the company apologized for having to re-accommodate the customers.

“Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”

In a statement, United said “we apologize for the overbook situation.”

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.

The arrangement can be lucrative to flexible travelers. A woman said she made $11,000 from Delta this weekend by twice delaying a family trip to Florida with her husband and daughter, then ultimately canceling it.

The episode on Sunday was the second social media stir for United in two weeks. In March, two girls were barred from a flight because they were wearing leggings, which the company said violated its dress code for a company benefit of United employees and their dependents. Critics called it a sexist and overbearing policy.

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