United Airlines found itself at the center of controversy Monday after a video posted on Facebook showed a passenger being forcibly removed from an overbooked flight Sunday at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
Several passengers reacted with horror as the man was pulled out of his seat and dragged toward the front of the plane by unidentified personnel. The flight from Chicago O'Hare to Louisville was operated by United Express affiliate Republic Airlines.
United confirmed that a passenger had been taken off Flight 3411 on Sunday in Chicago, with CEO Oscar Munoz apologizing and pledging to “conduct our own detailed review of what happened.”
The situation arose in part because United needed to get crewmembers onboard the sold-out flight so that they could get to Louisville to work a “downline connection,” said United spokesman Jonathan Guerin.
But the video has made headlines across the country, giving United an unwanted public relations black eye, just two weeks after it was exposed to criticism for denying boarding to two girls traveling on a guest pass because they were wearing leggings. Making it worse was that the passenger in this case had already boarded the flight.
“Once you’re offloading passengers who’ve already boarded so that you can get employees on the flight, you’d think they’d do just about anything to avoid that,” said Seth Kaplan, editor of the Airline Weekly trade publication.
Others echoed the sentiment that United probably could’ve handled the situation better.
“I’ve seen a lot in my 40 years covering and working for the airline industry, but this is historically bad public relations,” says George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog. “The burning question is why did they wait until everyone was seated before realizing they needed to move employees?”
United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. pic.twitter.com/rF5gNIvVd0— United (@united) April 10, 2017
As for passengers, they have surprisingly few rights when flights are “overbooked.”