Imagine if one of your relatives was forcibly dragged from a plane — literally pulled from the seat and dragged along the floor toward the exit — because the airline had overbooked one of its flights. If that were your dad, your son, your cousin, your brother — you would be furious.
That’s how scores of fellow passengers felt Sunday night, and they didn’t even know the man. It’s how scores of people on social media felt after a video of the incident was leaked — and they, too, didn’t know him. Yet people watched in horror and outrage as police came aboard a United Airlines flight as it sat in Chicago preparing for takeoff — and literally pulled a man sitting in his seat from the aircraft because he refused to volunteer his spot. As three officers dragged him out, he began screaming.
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The man is shown in the video above and in the photo, below right. Police removed him because the airline had overbooked the flight and failed to find enough customers to give up their seats and take a different flight.
It turns out that not only had United overbooked the flight — it was trying to free up seats for its own employees.
The episode aboard United Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, on Monday has now “become a national embarrassment for the Chicago Department of Aviation and United Airlines,” as an article in Patch.com noted Monday afternoon.
An officer from the Chicago Aviation Police helped drag the man off the plane by his arms — “bloodying his lip as horrified passengers protested and recorded the episode on their smartphones Sunday night at O’Hare International Airport,” the Patch report noted. That officer has now been placed on leave.
Another video, taken after the visibly shaken man had re-boarded, showed blood trickling down his face.
On Monday, the CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, issued a statement calling the incident “an upsetting event.” He wrote: “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.”
Ironically, PRWeek recently named Munoz “communicator of the year.”
Audra D. Bridges, a Louisville resident, told the Louisville Courier-Journal the man said he did not want to give up his seat for a Monday flight because as a doctor, he needed to be in Louisville in the morning to see patients. “We are all shaky and so disgusted,” Bridges wrote on her Facebook page.
The airline said in a statement: “Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. 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.” United Airlines at first offered $400 to anyone willing to give up a seat, then doubled the amount. When no one stepped forward, four passengers were randomly selected.
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You can bet anyone booking a flight does not expect a “situation” of being forcibly dragged out of an aircraft — not from a United flight. Not from any flight. Not in America.
As United Airlines continues to be mocked and criticized on social media, it’s time for companies to remember and respect that the customer comes first. Passengers are the lifeblood of their business — not merely individuals to “re-accommodate” after their own business practices backfire.