UPDATED: Here is why United is to blame

As most of you will have heard by now: a video has emerged of a passenger, who is by all accounts a doctor, being forcibly dragged off a United flight 3411 that was headed to Louisville.


This is an insane situation from start to finish.  And, while the passenger is definitely in the wrong for not complying with crew instructions, a mere cursory look at the facts reveals the real truth:  United is hiding behind the FAA rules in their short-sighted attempt to save a few dollars.

Apparently, United offered a $800 + hotel night stay (upped from their initial offer of $400) and when no one came forward, they called in the airport police to escort the man off the plane.  I feel bad for the policemen as well for having been placed in a difficult situation where they couldn’t have looked good no matter how they handled the situation.  United put the passenger and the police in a difficult position and it could’ve avoided this situation so easily.

To begin with, United shouldn’t have boarded the last passenger if the flight was overbooked.  It is far easier to restrict someone from boarding than forcibly dragging them off a flight.

Furthermore, even if somehow the gate agents needed to make a last minute accommodation for airline crew, this is not the way to go about it.  United should have sweetened the rather pathetic $800 incentive until they received a volunteer.  For a physician, $800 + a hotel night in a low-tier airport hotel isn’t nearly enough to make up for a missed day: some physicians make that much in an hour!  It doesn’t even look like they went up to the $1350 maximum as required by DOT for involuntary bumping.

And, to top it all off, United will probably spend a lot more money now in their escalated PR efforts to make up for this incident as well as any financial impact the lost goodwill will have.  So, they didn’t even end up saving any money in the end.

I really hope United owns up to this mistake and makes up for it to this poor person who has been victimised by their short-sighted greed.

UPDATE: United issues a full apology after a first failed attempt.  Full credit to them.

Dear Team,

The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.

I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.

It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.

I promise you we will do better.



  1. Steve Case

    United Elites? No they were United Airlines employees on a repositioning flight. It seems to me that United had already screwed things up before this flight if they had an entire cabin crew that was out of position

  2. I know many folks will argue with me on this but I’ve felt for years that it should be illegal to overbook a flight. I know there are many business reasons for doing it as folks don’t show up for flights, etc. To me it is selling something you don’t have. They don’t oversell tickets for concerts or other travel methods like this. You go online or to a ticket counter and buy a seat for a flight. The airlines sells you the seat but it reality there are no seats left to sell. I also agree they should never have allowed more passengers to board than there are seats.

    1. wildsman

      I agree with you in principle but I think it’s a compromise that people have made with the airline industry. If you miss a flight, you are generally put on the next available flight. You would probably lose this perk if airlines stopped overselling planes.

      Also, judging by how many times I’ve seen 10 or more standby passengers (including myself) get on sold-out flights, I can see the motivation of airlines to oversell flights.

      Having said that, airlines can handle the whole situation a whole lot better than they do.

      PS I think some concerts are oversold btw 🙂

    2. Ryan Bharucha

      Overbooking is a standard practice used by hotels & airlines to maximise revenues. Their product is a perishable one. If a seat (room) goes unsold on a flight, the seat remains unsold.
      If airlines and hotels are forced to ban overbooking, then customers should also be forced to not cancel their plans or not show up for a flight / stay.
      We cant have this both ways

  3. Steve Case

    I know the story already. United will hide behind their Contract of Carriage. Who wrote the contract of carriage? United. Who benefits from their lopsided contract of carriage? United. Was United in the right based solely on their COC? Yes. Was it right? He’ll no. Their out of position flight crew was no the problem that the doctor created. United should have figured out another way the crew to SDF. Furthermore, the doctor was due a bump fee of at least 4X his fare or $1350.00 per 14 CFR 250.5.

    This PR nightmare is going to cost United far more than $1350.00 and a hotel room.

  4. TamarindWalk

    This is a bizarre situation and United should never have allowed it to deteriorate to the point of calling in police to carry out the wishes of its revenue department. Use of police for this type of thing should be seriously questioned as police are essentially a force to keep law and order, not to carry out corporate office policies!
    Volunteers should have been sought prior to boarding. Any arbitrary selection of “volunteers” would have gone far smoother in the terminal.
    If I had been the doctor (and I am a doctor), I too would have been peeved to be arbitrarily selected and I would be ready to sue United and file abuse charges against the police.

  5. Craig S. (ROC)

    When you’re asked to get off the plane, you do it. You don’t throw a hissy fit. So he was a doctor, so what? Although doctors frequently are at the top of the arrogance tree, they have to abide by rules just as anyone else does. United did nothing wrong.

    1. United was bumping paying passengers to accommodate its own crew. By doing this, it was presumably saving quite a bit of money (by not enlisting a charter to fly the crew).

      The least it could have done is sweeten the pot enough that one of the passengers would have voluntarily disembarked. Everyone has a price. And, I bet that price is a lot less than what United is paying right now.

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