Why United is in Legal Trouble Over Removing a Passenger

April 12th, 2017 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

By now, most people have heard of the passenger on a United Express flight that was bloodied and forcibly removed from a flight in Chicago so that airline employees could make it to Louisville to support another flight there.

The event has caused a public relations nightmare for United, whose CEO initially defended his employees actions. But with the PR problems mounting due to several disturbing videos other passengers took with their cell phones, the CEO did a 180 and later apologized.

As someone who has flown hundreds of times over the last 40 years, I am particularly interested in this situation. Over that time I have witnessed the coarsening of our culture, and any misbehavior I have seen on flights has almost always been on the part of passengers. Flight attendants generally have to endure abuse with a smile on their face.

In this case, we have a medical doctor who refused to de-plane, and security was called. He acted immature, for sure, and in the process of forcibly removing him from his seat, his head was slammed against an armrest.

So why is this case different?

Because the man had a legal right to keep his seat.

Under United’s Contract Of Carriage (COC) rules (which follow federal rules), a passenger may only be bumped from a flight before they board (Rule 25). After they have taken their seat, Rule 21 is in effect, which would allow security to forcibly remove the passenger for many reasons — none of which includes accommodating last minute needs for a seat for other airline employees (or even overbooking).

The flyer is in a contractual relationship with the airline, and each has rights and responsibilities under that contract. United Express violated the terms of the contract, and injured the passenger in the process.

But doesn’t federal law require passengers to follow all crewmembers’ instructions?

One might argue, ok, so they shouldn’t have forced the passenger to de-plane… but by federal law he has to comply.

Well, what if a flight attendant approaches a young lady who has just taken her seat, and says, “I’m sorry, m’am, but I’m going to have to ask you to stand up and take your clothes off.

Excuse me?

Take your clothes off, m’am. Either obey our instructions, or you are in violation of federal law.

Well, that’s just ridiculous, you might protest. It has nothing to do with the safety of the flight.

Exactly. And neither did the passenger who was forcibly removed from the United Express flight.

I know that the doctor has a shady history. He lost his license to practice medicine in Kentucky. He acted in an immature manner, and did not comply with even security personnel instructions.

But those issues are irrelevant. He was being told to do something in violation of the contract he had with the airline.

Now, the airline will pay.

I’m sure there will be an out-of-court settlement. The bigger hit on United will be its reputation, though, which will impact its business and its stock value.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more lawsuits. What about an executive who was told to vacate his seat, and as a result he didn’t make an important meeting and his company lost out on a multi-million dollar contract? I’m sure there will be all kinds of people who have suffered harm because airlines have not been following federal rules regarding removing passengers from a flight.

But if those airline employees didn’t make it to Louisville, a flight might have been cancelled!

The reason this whole thing went downhill is that the airlines have gotten used to intimidating passengers. They believe they have the right to remove someone from their seat for any reason they want, with minimum financial compensation, including needing the seat for employees or because of overbooking. Now we know that’s not true.

All United Express had to do was bump up the financial incentive to give up a seat. The offer was at $800, and going to the $1,350 “limit” would have fixed the problem. Julian Simon was the one who came up with the seat-auction system, and it should be used as intended… not circumvented by intimidating passengers with threats of violations of federal law.

The United employees would have made it to Louisville, without a major incident.

You can bet executives at every airline are in meetings this week, reviewing the Contract Of Carriage rules (with their lawyers), and passing the word down the management chain to never let this happen again.

Under the current rules, there was no reason for it to happen in the first place. It happened because of bad management.

189 Responses to “Why United is in Legal Trouble Over Removing a Passenger”

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  1. Gary says:

    Much of the bumping problem could be avoided if the airlines would add a simple item to the ticketing process. Ask the purchaser to indicate their willingness to be bumped at the time of ticket sale. And what compensation they would accept. Keep the information in the database so when and if a bump is required, there is a ready pool of volunteers. Letting the customers decide puts some autonomy back in their hands, it reduces the company’s capriciousness, and is relatively easy to do. Incentives all around make everybody happier in a stressful situation.

    • How much I’d accept depends a lot on my commitments over the next 12-24 hours. That varies a lot with the trips I take. The current system works well…if the airlines don’t try to cheat you by circumventing the rules.

      • czechlist says:

        Why don’t we let this play out. More info is being released every day.
        Besides, I have this site bookmarked for climate info.

        • Roy Spencer says:

          But global warming causes all problems now, haven’t you heard? So I’m sure this situation can somehow be blamed on climate change.

          • David Appell says:

            Only in your imagination.

          • Crakar24 says:

            No David, jet fuel is measured by weight not on litres (gallons for you) therefore in a warming world fuel expands, less fuel, planes don’t carry as much, airlines need to bump passengers to save fuel.

            The omnl potent force of a trace gas has no bounds it effects everyone everywhere all the time.

          • Gordon Robertson says:

            Roy…”Im sure this situation can somehow be blamed on climate change”.

            No doubt about it Roy, the guy was obviously irritated by a 1C warming of the global average over the past century and with the prospect of melting Arctic ice raising see levels.

            I mean who would not be irritated over that?

            On the other hand, United are climate deniers for not recognizing the guy’s right to feel irritated about the climate.

          • Crakar24 says:

            Very good point Gordon as sea levels rise planes need to fly higher in the atmosphere to maintain altitude. Higher alt means thinner air, less efficient fuel burn, not enough fuel, bump passengers to save fuel. Co2 is a magical pollutant.

        • Roy Spencer says:

          …and it has “played out” as I expected. UA CEO Munoz has now admitted that this should have never happened, and they will never again remove a seated passenger from a flight under similar circumstances. Their lawyers must have actually read the Contract of Carriage and realized they were in the wrong.

          • Stephen Richards says:

            The CEO was an idiot. Stupidity of that magnitude deserves to be treated with dismissal.

            All he had to do was say it was unacceptable, the passenger would be compensated and the airline staff and police retrained.

          • Patrick says:

            I noticed that the doctor was being protected and never made it to take care of his patients. Living in a “coddled” society with “ambulance-chasing” lawyers gives anyone the right to throw temper tantrums in an effort to get what they want. Looking forward to the day when lawyers start screening every documented toddler’s temper tantrum along with parental responses in order to introduce more litigation.

            Many reports are telling that he originally agreed, but “temper-tantrum politics” works better in a juvenile society.

          • Joe Peck says:

            Dr. Spencer
            As a 777 captain for United I was greatly disheartened by your post. I’m on a layover and using an iPad and heading out to dinner with the crew momentarily so I need to be brief. Quite simply your premise that United violated the contract is wrong. United’ s own PR department quoted the wrong rule. Rule 21 “Refusal of Transport” explicitly outlines the right of the airline to deplane a passenger already boarded. This entire situation has been poorly managed by United’s PR department. When a a passenger disregards instructions it is considered a “Threat Level 1” incident. Dr Doa’s behavior is indicative of a growing problem of public flagrant disregard for authority.

            Joe Peck

      • Gary says:

        There is flexibility in this idea:
        1. choose your most advantageous remuneration and stick to it.
        2. opt out of bumping altogether.
        3. let the data be updated until some reasonable time (1 hour?) before boarding.

        I like option 3 because computers and communication can handle it and freedom of choice is optimized for all parties in a complex economic/logistic transaction.

    • Bayou Castine says:

      Why should employees of an airline have preference over paying customers? “Deadheading” – as currently practiced – should be curtailed or eliminated. If it is SO IMPORTANT for an airline to get employees [“flight crew members”] to another airport to keep the other flight from being canceled BY TICKETS FOR THEM ANOTHER AIRLINE. Or, the airline in question should have small aircraft available for such service for employees.

      [Perhaps there is an opportunity for an entrepreneur to develop business to service this problem!!]

      Employees handling customer relations, such as we are discussing here, very have never worked for a small business or owned their very own business. If they had we would have never heard of this incident, it would not have developed as it did.

  2. Jim Thompson says:

    In fairness, that isn’t how Rule 25 is interpreted. Denied Boarding is interpreted as being denied transportation on that particular aircraft. I have personally been bumped off a flight after being seated. It is extremely rare, though. The bumping process usually (but not always) occurs in the gate area. This leads me to believe that the requirement for those 4 seats arose after or during the boarding process. Three of the passengers left peacefully and only the last passenger chose to refuse, even after being told police were being called.

    That does raise the issue addressed in Rule 21(H) of the Contract of Carriage. The crew has an absolute duty to report and or remove someone that they believe will not comply with airline safety procedures. When the passenger refused to leave the aircraft after four requests and then the threat of police action there may have been a realistic concern that he might be unstable and not follow other instructions and become an airborne problem so security was called. It is highly unlikely that the flight crew would have departed with that passenger on board. You need to understand the pressure caused by the legal situation after 9/11. I am familiar with security alerts called for less. We are viewing this with the luxury of hindsight that the crew and Customer Service agents didn’t have. It looked like an unremarkable denied boarding until the customer turned it into an international incident.

    That in no way excuses the actions of the Chicago PD who did the removal, although the passenger did physically resist them. The City of Chicago may well pay dearly and one of the officers is already under investigation according to the news. UAL will certainly settle this out of court and will rethink their compensation policies but refusing to comply with crew or CS orders will continue to result in removals.

    • “Uniteds Rule 25, as its title clearly implies, applies only to denied boarding. Thus, it uses the word denied boarding, and variants such as deny boarding, but says nothing about requiring passengers who have already boarded to give up their seats.

      Indeed, it states in part, using the word boarding twice, that: other passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with UAs boarding priority.

      Clearly, a boarding priority does not include or imply an involuntary removal or refusal of transport. Moreover, under well accepted contract law, any ambiguous term in a contract must be construed against and in the way least favorable to the party which drafted it.

      So, even if United argued that there was some ambiguity in denied boarding based upon boarding priority and that it could possibly mean removal based upon a removal priority a court would be forced to rule against this interpretation because United drafted the contract.”

      By having a Rule 21, with approximately two dozen reasons listed why a seated passenger CAN be removed from a flight, the airline admits that a passenger, once seated, has “boarded” the plane, and can only be removed for those reasons…not just because of the airline’s convenience, or to save the airline money. If case this makes it to court (which I doubt), I fully expect this interpretation would be upheld…no matter how it’s been viewed by the airlines up to this point.

      • Lewis says:

        I agree with your initial prognosis – poor management.
        The auction process should have continued until enough people were bought off – the plane.

        As it was, many are irritated. United will suffer. Hopefully others, in and out of the industry, will learn.

        And yes, since climate change is indicated by everything, good and bad, etc…

      • bill says:

        There are two issues in play, one, the initial action of the airline, which was clearly wrong under a strict application of Rule 25; and two, the conduct of the passenger. The fault of the airline in the first issue did not give the passenger to conduct himself that way in the second issue. He should have peacefully left the plane (a second time) and dealt with issue one in a respectable matter. The point at which he became belligerent was a game changer, and he should not have resisted the police.

        • Mike Flynn says:


          I’ve seen nothing to suggest the police were involved. A person may conduct themselves as they see fit. So may an airline, such as United.

          If either breaks the law, they may be treated accordingly. It seems the passenger in question broke no laws. He doesn’t seem to have been arrested or charged with any offence.

          On the other hand, the United CEO, and subordinate staff may be guilty of criminal conspiracy, illegal detention, inflicting grievous bodily harm, denial of constitutional rights and do on.

          Maybe the United CEO could refer to your expertise if required to justify his incompetence before an appropriate body. You obviously have access to facts unavailable to the rest of us.

          May I enquire as to source of your facts, or are you just making stuff up?


    • MikeN says:

      It has been reported that the guy left the plane, then ran back from the gate and took his seat.

      • Roy Spencer says:

        No, he was dragged off the plane, then returned.

        • bill says:

          Doesn’t matter. There are ways of dealing with issues like a rational adult. Becoming a belligerent fool with the police is not the proper way to deal with anything.

          • SilkRoadDog says:

            His behavior after the initial assault is consistent with that of a person with a brain injury such as a concussion or the like. This is further supported by his extended stay in the hospital.

            Side note: It’s now being alleged by some that there are two Dr David Daos in the region (they have different middle names) and that this one is not the one with the criminal record. We will see on that one.

          • Streetcred says:

            Apparently, it was not the “police” but some other poorly trained sops.

        • MikeN says:

          Then what happened? Did they drag him off again? That version doesn’t make sense.

    • Streetcred says:

      ” That does raise the issue addressed in Rule 21(H) of the Contract of Carriage. The crew has an absolute duty to report and or remove someone that they believe will not comply with airline safety procedures. When the passenger refused to leave the aircraft after four requests and then the threat of police action there may have been a realistic concern that he might be unstable and not follow other instructions and become an airborne problem so security was called. ”

      This was never a “safety” issue, it was always and only about finding seats to transport airline staff at the expense of paying customers. Sorry, ZERO compassion for the airline and its staff in this shamozzle!

  3. ossqss says:

    The perpetrators of the battery are actually the security people. Are those United staff, private contractors or police?

    • Roy Spencer says:

      I’ve heard they were Chicago police.

      • ossqss says:

        Interesting,,,,,, where is the appology from those directly and physically involved in this messy situation? Where is the outrage of police misconduct if that is indeed true? One would think the flight crew carried him out based in reporting I have seen.

        • Roy Spencer says:

          One officer was immediately placed on leave. I suspect this means the Chicago police might also get sued. But…if they were responding to a call of a “disruptive” passenger, and the guy will not leave willingly, it could be they felt justified in using force to remove him. It’s the airline’s fault for escalating the situation to that point…a person peacefully refusing to leave when they have paid for a seat is a level of detail I suspect the police were not informed about.

          • SilkRoadDog says:

            Not Chicago PD, Chicago Dept of Aviation Security officers. Semi-sworn personnel (halfway between cops and security guards) from reports.

    • Bleif says:

      O’Hare police. They’re with the Dept of Aviation, I believe, not the actual standard PD.

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      0ssqss…”The perpetrators of the battery are actually the security people. Are those United staff, private contractors or police?”

      If they are anything like the customs security at our local airport in Canada, they are thugs with guns.

      I was working air-side with full clearance to go anywhere in the customs-controlled area I needed to go. To get such clearance, you are closely scrutinized by our Federal security agency and our federal police.

      I was taking an elevator upstairs in the customs area when one of the black-shirted thugs with a gun confronted me about being on what he apparently regarded as his elevator.

      I explained civilly that I had clearance to be on the elevator and I showed him the status on my badge. He insisted I could not use that elevator and wondered where I got such a high clearance.

      I took it up with the head of the airport and he laughed. He told me to ignore the guy and if there was any further harassment to bring it back to him.

      Why airports feel they have to hire people with such attitudes is beyond me. I don’t think anyone should be licensed to carry a firearm or to be a cop, unless he/she can pass a stringent series of psychological tests to prove their sanity.

      At the same airport, a Polish immigrant was Tasered to death by 4 of our federal police. At one point, a paramedic tried to intervene, as one of the cops held the immigrant down with a knee on his neck while another continued to give him blasts with the Taser.

      The paramedic told them the guy’s life was in danger and they ignored him. Thankfully there was a full investigation in which their leader was ultimately fired. Some of the others lied and were charged with contempt.

      It turned out the guy could not speak a word of English and there was not one customs agent who could speak Polish. They held him for so long, his mother who had come to meet him thought he had missed the flight and left.

      She made inquiries and she was told no one could comment. They would not tell her whether he was in customs or not. When he was finally released from customs he could not locate his mother and became frustrated.

      He did act a bit strange but expressed violence toward no one. The 4 cops called to the scene did not even try to reason with him or find out what the problem might be. They simply Tasered him to the point he died. The cops later explained that he did not die from the Taser he died from ‘excited delirium’.

      Yeah, right. A charge of current through your body capable of freezing major muscles cannot stop your heart.

      When I heard about this guy on the United flight I immediately thought police brutality. Why do cops always resort to the most brutal methods they have at their disposal? Some of the women are even worse. They get this authority complex and seem to want to prove themselves against stronger men. Of course, they are always backed up by men only too willing to get a few shots in.

  4. David Gray says:

    So what is to keep the airlines from amending Rule 25 to say the airline can refuse to board or deplane anyone for any reason at any time?

    Are the rules negotiated with the FAA or DoT or subject to review or approval by either or both?

    I think people are alarmed because we can each see the instance of this possibly happening to us. It smacks of police state tactics; in fact, it is indistinguishable from that.

    • Roy Spencer says:

      I would imagine that the rules are influenced by public opinion. They have to make things reasonable for the paying customer. The rules as written seem fine as is. I think the corporate mentality is what’s at fault…by letting the government regulate everything, corporations think they can avoid all legal responsibility by saying, “hey, we were just abiding by federal law”.

      • Kevin says:

        by letting the government regulate everything, corporations think they can avoid all legal responsibility by saying, “hey, we were just abiding by federal law”. …. Bingo.

    • Rhee says:

      David, I heard an afternoon radio host in Denver, who says she had been a stewardess at one time, state the position that the “boarding process” is an expansive term interpreted to mean everything from the time the passenger purchases a ticket until the aircraft is wheels up in flight. She maintained that the airline has any and every right to remove a passenger until the aircraft has actually left the ground.

      • C M says:

        I have seen numerous discussions like this one. People who are in the airline industry, used to be in the industry or have relatives in the industry keep saying, “the plane is not boarded until the wheels are up.”

        That is 100% wrong. I have read the United contract and it doesn’t say that. There is a doctrine of contractual interpretation called “contra proferentem.” It means that if there is ambiguity, it is interpreted against the person who wrote the contract. United didn’t specify “not until the wheels are up” in the contract. Therefore, “boarded the plane” means exactly that — “boarded the plane.”

        Several other lawyers have made the same statement. Example: Craig Copetas, John Banzhaf, Arthur Wolk, Brian Cunha and several others.

        Basically, once the person is on the plane, it becomes “Denial of Transport.” According to several lawyers, the list of items which allow for Denial of Transport did not apply here.

  5. Bob Cherba says:

    Thanks for your explanation Dr. Spencer. It’s the best I’ve seen so far. Having been a frequent flyer in the 1980s (seldom United) my first reaction was basically what you explained — if your butt is in the seat, you own it. Whether or not an airline can legally or contracturally remove a passenger involuntarily to assign the seat to another person, it’s really bad public relations, as United is discovering.

    Always enjoy your blog, whether about climate or not.

  6. Curious George says:

    Fortunately it all happened before the takeoff. United reserves the right to take you off the plane at any time.

    • Roy Spencer says:

      …but NOT for any reason. There are a couple dozen reasons, and this wasn’t one of them. Making the guy bloody just compounded their mistake.

      • MikeN says:

        You missed the point.

        • Roy Spencer says:

          who missed what point?

          • Jim Dean says:

            Good one Curious George! Fortunately it all happened (before) the takeoff. United reserves the right to take you off the plane at (any time).

            Once in the air, it would have been mandatory to outfit him with a suitable and functional parachute in order to throw him off the plane. LOL!

          • David Brewer says:

            Roy – I think you missed the point that Curious George was making a joke, i.e. just lucky for the passenger that United didn’t exercise its right to deplane the passenger while airborne.

            Having flown on United a fair few times over the years, this incident does not surprise me. The level of bullying of passengers has just gotten worse and worse.

            Thanks for all your posts, really enjoy your site and learn a lot.

  7. Albert Perdon says:

    As a passenger on that flight, I would be fearful of my safety during boarding and after the plane took off while the arguing passenger was on the plane. If there is a dispute on a flight, I would want the person removed from the flight no matter what his reason. If he suffered damages because of the airline’s action or because of the action by a local police officer, let him resolve that dispute outside the boundary of an airplane about to fly 30,000 feet in the air where control of a possible incident is very difficult. There is an underlying issue here. What responsibility do we have to follow the direction of a police officer (also sometimes referred to as a safety or security officer) if anyone can just decide on their own that they don’t have to obey the police? At that point there is no rule of law. We can’t put people at risk while lawyers are debating the merits of the law. The passenger’s life did not appear to be at risk when he decided to disobey an order of a police officer. Can we expect our “peace officers” to do anything other than to carry out their mandate unless, of course, there is a direct and immediate threat to the safety of the person being arrested or others that may become innocent victims? The public will likely see the disobeying passenger as a victim. I see the public as a victim of a disobeying passenger who did not want to be inconvenienced at the expense of many more victims who were even more greatly inconvenienced by being put at risk – not just now, but also in the future.

    • Roy Spencer says:

      I don’t really disagree with anything you said. But it’s the airline’s fault that this ever happened. If the airline cannot follow its own rules (actually, federal rules), and this kind of situation results, it’s not good for air travel in general.

    • Jaybird says:

      Wrong, wrong, wrong. We DO NOT have a responsibility to follow the direction of a police officer when he is giving an illegal order. It is absolutely clear that United was in violation of its contract by asking Dr. Dao to leave. Moreover, there is grave doubt that the officers had any authority whatsoever to be on the plane to remove him. Their authority was limited to the airport itself. We do not yet live in a police state, regardless of the efforts that the current administration is undertaking.

      • Rick says:

        You are quite right. Veterans will recognize it as Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Lawful orders only.

  8. Stuar says:

    It appears that there are some DoT regulations limiting the amount of compensation. Although perhaps not explicitly to $800.

    Remove that regulation, require that the airline keep raising the offer until somebody volunteers. At some point, $5000, $10,000, somebody will be more than happy to walk off the plane. Or the airline will simply determine that perhaps it is cheaper to cancel something elsewhere or charter a private plane or hire a limo for cross country.

    Some commentators suggest that the airlines are happy with having a hard limit. They can then use force to grab somebody off the plane. Given this case (and the fact that about 90% of all passengers have a video camera in their pocket these days!) there is a good chance this will get changed.

    On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the Tylenol Poisoning, this is about an 8. Could be worse. But hard to say how without actually killing somebody. Certainly this will cost United more money than they have saved by overbooking for the past year or two. And will require fast and immediate pro-active changes to procedures if they want to walk away from this any time soon. An apology simply won’t be sufficient.

    • David Appell says:

      And, from what I’ve read, the offer isn’t in cash, but in travel certificates on United. Big difference.

      • Bart says:

        I don’t know what they offered in this particular instance, but I do know I got bumped from a United flight once, and they paid me about $1300 cash compensation in addition to refunding the ticket. They were extremely nice about it.

        • David Appell says:

          I once got a little bit of cash, too, and a stay in a hotel, but that was a few decades ago. From yesterday’s NY Times:

          “Airlines have oversold flights for decades, expecting several people not to show up for a flight. It is a strategy that ensures a full plane and maximizes profits for airlines. Typically, airlines begin bargaining with passengers at the gate, offering travel vouchers of $400 to $600. In the United States, compensation maxes out at $1,350, but experts say the reward offers rarely get that high.”


          • Bart says:

            Mine was maybe a couple of years ago.

          • Bart says:

            But, mind you, I was not on the plane. If I have gotten on the plane, in my seat, and they then told me I had to accept a payout and get out, I would have been a lot more upset about it.

          • Rhee says:

            Apparently the compensation maxes out at 4x the price of the fare, so in this case the $1350 is 4x the fare. But I think the 4x cap (for domestic fares, higher factor for intl) is a hindrance to commerce because it was likely set that way by DOT/FAA to ensure a profit center not be seriously impacted in exchange for buy-in by the airline managements. Remove the artificial cap and let the true auction play out in these cases so such circumstances can work themselves out naturally. If the dire need to move 4 crewmen in order to forestall loss of an entire flight is costed properly, even $2000 would have been cheap to recruit volunteers.

          • Jaybird says:

            This was not an oversold flight. It was a fully booked flight. Paying, already boarded, passengers were asked to leave the plane for the convenience of airline employees. Louisville is about 5-6 hours from Chicago. If they can’t get to the gate until the last minute, put them on a damn bus.

  9. g*e*r*a*n says:

    One of my favorite airlines is Horizon (operated by Alaska Airlines).

    Horizon serves free wine and beer. I’ve never been on a flight where there were any problems from customers.

    Maybe United needs to consider proper treatment of customers….

    • Lewis says:

      Customer service is slowly going away in this country. But every business we enter into is about customer service.

      What the young are learning, and which is too often reinforced in college – is the whining to get your selfish way. Consider no others.

      This applies both to the United employees, the traveler and the police. Complete lack of cooperation and thoughtfulness on all parts.

      I fire employees for mistreating customers and have fired customers (RockTenn – now WestRock- it was unbelievable how arrogant they were) for mistreating our employees.

      • David Appell says:

        Cutthroat capitalism. Ayn Rand would be proud of United.

        • Streetcred says:

          Really !? Looks more like communist fascism … maybe they could have re-accommodated the unfortunate victim to a gulag for re-education? CAPITALISM doesn’t have an equivalent.

          • David Appell says:

            Of course, communism is nowhere near this episode. Capitalism is.

          • Rick Jafrate says:

            Enforcing an arbitrary cap on the market value/price of a commodity, through the use of government sanctioned force, is the hall mark of communism and socialism, not capitalism. If capitalism were allowed to play out there would not have been a problem. The price offered for the seat would have continued to rise until a willing seller was found or until the offered price became greater than the value of transporting their employees.

  10. Harry Cummings says:

    I have flown about 24000 km a year for the last 10 years mostly international. All the problems I have come across have been passengers I have seen a fight, a broken leg,and a heart attack and once turbulence over China in one of those big 380’s that was unbelievable which left passengers in piles in various corners and the air crews have always been really good. I do find though going into the US some of the boarder people some what less the friendly but once in the service and internal flight are excellent.


    • Bart says:

      I fly, well, more than that. It seems I have been very lucky. The worst I have seen was when passengers on a red eye became very upset by a dog someone had brought in one of those carryalls that would not stop yipping. I’ve never experienced the kind of turbulence others have talked about where the plane has suddenly dropped and passengers’ heads banged the ceilings.

      Knock on wood. The next flight will probably be my first, just for having drawn the Sky Gods’ attention with this post 😉

  11. barry says:

    Overbooking should be banned. It’s scrooging at the expense of the paying (and in this case, seated) passengers. Louisville has half a million residents. Surely UA could pay to have local staff on stand-by when they run short? Or put the flight staff on a non-pubic flight and take a little money hit in the name of sure service.

    Wiki says that over half a million Americans were refused flights in 2015 due to overbooking. It’s a tiny fraction of annual passengers, but a pretty significant number nevertheless. Wiki also said that “only” 8.6% of denials of boarding were involuntary, whatever that means.

    • Bart says:

      Well,OK, but every action has a reaction. If the airlines can’t fill the planes, they will have to pass the costs along to you. They will fly less efficiently, with fewer passengers per mile, generating more CO2. But, you don’t genuinely care about that, do you?

      • Streetcred says:

        Algore and his Hollywood warmista mugs don’t care either.

      • barry says:

        Overbooking is not done to reduce ticket prices. While there may be a cost offset to passengers in general, it is done to maximise profits for the airlines.

        It’s actually a pretty interesting issue, as it touches on some basic economic/social values. No doubt many people will fall on one side or other of the arguments depending on their outlook regarding these things, eg, profit vs. decency.

        I’ve tried to apply the airline rationale to other consumer platforms, like sport. Eg, would it be a good idea for football stadiums to overbook, and if not, why not? Or you book online to see a movie and they turn you away because everyone showed up this time.

        These seem like relatively minor commitments compared to flying, for various reasons. Partly why I think the overbooking policy is low-value for customers, high value for the airlines.

      • barry says:

        They will fly less efficiently, with fewer passengers per mile, generating more CO2. But, you dont genuinely care about that, do you?


      • Brian says:

        Yeah, and if we don’t let Wal-Mart get their clothing from sweatshops that employ children, they might have to get it from American workers who drive cars to work. You’ll have to pay more and the atmosphere will receive more pollution from those cars. That justifies sweatshops and child labor. Right?

        Sometimes it’s just about right and wrong.

  12. barry says:

    Some commentary upthread caused me to check – it wasn’t Chicago Police, but aviation security, AKA airport police. They’re not the same.


  13. Gordon Robertson says:

    Same thing happened re over-booking recently with a couple on an Air Canada flight.

    They were told at the counter they were bumped. Not as bad as being bodily removed from an aircraft but they were scheduled to check in to a hotel en route to a holiday destination and getting bumped affected them financially.

    After the story broke, Air Canada agreed to compensate them and pay for the hotel at which they had failed to show.

    It has been suggested people book well in advance and confirm 24 hours before the flight. Better still, check in 24 hours beforehand.

    Tickets sold by third party brokers are supposed to be guaranteed. If you book through one of them and print off a receipt, then check in really early, it should minimize your chances of being bumped.

  14. Nahtan says:

    Once the doctor was off the plane and snuck back on he was trespassing. Your argument might have held if he had remained on the plane, but he did not.

    • Mike Flynn says:

      Obviously a criminal mastermind, avoiding the dozy police, security, United cabin crew, and all the rest. After knocking him unconscious, and dragging him off the plane, you’d think they might at least have kept an eye on him – even only to see if he might be in need of some medical assistance.

      Obviously, a terrorist could get on a plane quite easily. Just pretend to be an innocent passenger nearly 70 years old, cover your face with blood, and claim you’ve been attacked by the police at the request of the cabin crew!

      They’ll probably charge him with assisting terrorism, by showing how to sneak onto an aeroplane without going through security again!


    • Roy Spencer says:

      Him returning to the plane will be irrelevant to his lawsuit against UA. If him returning was against the law, then fine, he gets a $15 million settlement from UA and pleads guilty to trespassing. Big deal.

    • C M says:

      He did not “sneak back on the plane.” The Security Officers that used excessive and unreasonable force left him on the jetway after they dragged him off the plane. At this point he had a severe concussion due to #1 United violated their Contract of Carriage and #2 the ASOs which used excessive and unreasonable force.

      Because of his concussion, he was completely disoriented and ran back on the plane. This is clearly obvious in the Youtube video.

  15. Mike Flynn says:

    In civilised countries, the police don’t usually assault citizens at the behest of private companies.

    I assume the citizen in question broke some law, and the police were called to arrest him. Even in the US, police are normally required to inform an arrestee of the reason for the arrest, and tell him of certain “Miranda” rights.

    The US practice of arbitrarily involving the police to assault customers who merely expect to be allowed to us the service for which they have paid, seems odd. Does a passenger possess the same right to demand that the police physically enforce their wishes, should they accuse an airline employee of breaching some obscure part of the contract of carriage?

    The usual contract of carriage can run up to 70,000 words – the airlines claim you agree to it when you purchase a ticket. The United COC seems to indicate you may be denied boarding, at United’s whim. Once allowed to board, I believe the Captain has the power to physically restrain you, if he believes your continuing presence on the aircraft would present a danger to others – just like the Captain of any ship.

    Video appears to show the passenger in question presented no danger to anyone. The police in question have all been placed on administrative leave, I believe. If United were silly enough to sell someone a ticket, and allow them to board, maybe United should just admit their incompetence, and move on.

    It seems the passenger is seeking damages from United. Maybe he should just ask for the police to beat up the United staff who demanded his removal, the police who physically assaulted and illegally detained him, and the CEO of United, who apparently claimed the passenger was at fault for expecting United to provide the service paid for.

    Or do the police only assault people on planes at the request of airline employees?


    • Snape says:

      If a police officer believes (rightly or wrongly) that a crime is being committed, can he/she use force to stop the criminal activity?

      Is a person required to obey a police officer, even if that person believes he/she is not violating a law?

      These are the bigger questions at play here.

    • barry says:

      To be clear, these weren’t the Chicago police. these were aviation security, often called ‘airport police.’

      “They are under the jurisdiction of the Chicago Department of Aviation, the administrative body of Chicagos OHare and Midway airports.


      Apparently they receive more training than security guards but less than actual police.

    • David Appell says:

      Mike Flynn says:
      “In civilised countries, the police dont usually assault citizens at the behest of private companies.”

      Of course they do: shoplifters.

      • Mike Flynn says:

        Witless fool. Assault by polce at the behest of private companies is illegal in civilised countries. Police generally have no more right to assault shoplifters than any other lawbreaker – even Bernie Madoff, for example.

        I wrote “civilised countries”. If the police usually assault shoplifters in the US at GHE behest of private companies, the US doesn’t seem to qualify as a civilised country, does it?

        Maybe you live in a fantasy world where your wishes supercede those of others. I wish you well with your delusion.


  16. Mike Flynn says:


    Yes. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe the officers had reason to believe a crime was being committed, apparently. All the officers have been placed on administrative leave, and the purported criminal has not been arrested, charged, or even questioned in relation to suspicion of being involved in criminal activity. Have you secret knowledge?

    No. A person can decline to obey a policeman, as Dr Spencer pointed out. Depending on circumstances, you may be arrested. You are required to be informed of your rights, including the right to silence. Generally, you will be told “you are not required to do or say anything . . . ”

    From this point, you cannot be required to obey a police direction, and of course the police may use as much force as required to enforce the provisions of relevant law.. Unless the police are of the climatological variety, in which case “you are not required . . . ” really means “you have to do what I tell you, otherwise I’ll knock you unconscious!”

    What are the bigger questions at play? The law is the law, whether you like it or not – or whether the police or United like it, for that matter.


    • Snape says:

      Flynn wrote, “the law is the law…”

      Did this man resist arrest? Just wondering.

      • Roy Spencer says:

        From what I have heard, he was not arrested…just dragged off the plane because he refused to leave.

      • Snape says:

        I didn’t see the video, just read Roy’s post. Was this guy arrested for refusing to leave his seat, and then dragged away as a result of resisting arrest?

      • Mike Flynn says:


        Apparently not. He had broken no law. He wasn’t being arrested. Video from a passenger behind shows what he said. The police officers involved have been placed on administrative leave. The passenger assaulted has not been arrested or charged with anything to my knowledge.

        Declining to accept an offer of a sum of money, and an alternate flight, in lieu of a promised service which has been paid for, after being permitted to board, may be a criminal offence, but I think not.

        Even the United CEO has stated “Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologise to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No-one should ever be mistreated this way.”

        What was the customer’s criminal act? Sitting in his allocated seat? Do you think the United CEO is lying when he says “No-one should ever be treated in this way”?

        If the passenger broke the law, he will no doubt be arrested, charged, and so on.

        So tell us all, what are the bigger questions at play, or are you hiding this super secret information?


        • Snape says:


          I didn’t see the video, and assumed the guy had been mistakenly arrested and then dragged off the plane as a result of resisting arrest. That’s what my “bigger questions” were about.

          My mistake.

      • Streetcred says:

        Do these poorly trained security personnel have the authority to conduct a legal “arrest” ?

    • barry says:

      No. A person can decline to obey a policeman

      Wasn’t Chicago Police but aviation security. not sure what citizen’s rights and obligations are in this case.


  17. Snape says:

    Roy wrote, “But doesnt federal law require passengers to follow all crewmembers instructions?

    I’m not a lawyer, Roy, but I doubt we are required to follow ALL crewmembers’ instructions. The law is likely more nuanced than this.

    • barry says:

      Roy made the same point.

    • Roy Spencer says:

      I was merely responding to others who have used this as justification for dragging the man off the plane.

      • Snape says:

        What I’m saying is that if a flight crew orders you to leave a plane, and you refuse, you may indeed be violating federal law. It follows that airport security might be allowed to drag someone down the isle if that’s what it took to enforce the law.

        My other thought was that if regular police officers were involved, they should have first arrested the guy, and only then used force if he resisted.

      • barry says:

        you may indeed be violating federal law

        Maybe so. But the lack of certainty is why I think the distinction between aviation police and regular police is worth mentioning.

        The Chicago aviation deputy commissioner said a couple of days ago that aviation security are instructed not to get on planes unless there is an emergency. Actual police would not generally be called upon in this case, so the ‘authority’ aviation security has in this instance is not so clear. I’ve read that they have the power to detain, but not officially arrest (that’s the provisional opinion I get after reading varying opinion). So it’s a little murky. Probably why pollies are calling for clarification.

        What is not murky is that this episode was handled very poorly by aviation security and probably flight staff in calling upon them.

  18. barry says:

    Still a bit of confusion upthread. These were not the Chicago Police man-handling the passenger.

    “They are under the jurisdiction of the Chicago Department of Aviation, the administrative body of Chicagos OHare and Midway airports. Officers play ‘an important, supplementary role in keeping [Chicago airports] safe by overseeing access points,’ Aviation Department spokesman Owen Kilmer said in 2016.”


    I’m not sure the average citizen would be aware of their rights and obligations WRT this security detail.

    • Roy Spencer says:

      I guess I don’t see the significance of who the officers were employed by…except it helps lawyers decide how many organizations they can sue.

      • Snape says:

        I agree.

      • barry says:

        For one thing, airport security in Chicago airport are barred from carrying guns.

      • Mike Flynn says:

        Unless it transpires these officers no more legal right to physically drag a passenger off a plane, than any other person.

        It will interesting if the self styled “police” turn out to have no powers of arrest or detention.They may find themselves subject to sanctions by the “real” police. Who knows? Illegal detention, inflicting grievous bodily harm, assault, threatening behaviour, and other serious criminal charges.

        Of course, if this is the case, United may be complicit. The administrative staff and cabin crew who encouraged or participated in a criminal act may be found equally guilty, and there might be a charge of criminal conspiracy if the personnel involved either knew, or ought to have known, that the passengers legal rights were being infringed to obtain a benefit for United.

        The CEO of United might have conspired to pervert the course of justice by making false statements, when he either knew or should have known, such statements to be false. Either that, or he may have made statements with a reckless disregard for the truth.

        Maybe United will just be sued, pay out millions, and just recoup it by increasing the overbooking. Anyone who complains about getting “bumped’, “re-accommodated “, or whatever new weasel words are used, can just be threatened with an ongoing and well funded campaign of harassment until they give in.

        Go United! Business plan for the 21st Century!


        • barry says:

          I’ve read that there have been disagreements between Chicago Police and aviation security in the past. Aviation Security (Chicago Police also patrol the airport) are instructed by CP to keep clear of any incident involving weapons – they are barred from carrying guns.

          They do have power to detain, if not officially arrest. They are certified ‘law enforcement officials,’ although what that actually means in practice is more research than I’ve had time to do.

          • george says:

            an us citizen can make a citizen arrest. if the arrest is in the wrong the citizen can then be charged them-self with a crime but if they are in the right the arrest is legal

          • barry says:

            Far as we know the man was arrested at no time.

      • barry says:

        I guess I dont see the significance of who the officers were employed by

        The legal angle is one of the issues. Jurisdiction and internal policy also matters, which in this case seems to have been overstepped. In my country at least, security guards and police are not the same. Looks like Chicago airport security are something between.

    • barry says:

      People are making points upthread based on a misconception. We’re generally aware of our rights and obligations WRT to traditional police (“you have to obey the police”), but I don’t know if it’s exactly the same with aviation security.

      I’m reasonably sure no one here knows definitively (without checking) whether the distinction is a hair split or something more significant.

      • Snape says:

        Right. I thought he was resisting arrest. I mean, why would cops think it’s ok to drag someone across a plane if they hadn’t been charged with a crime?

  19. g*e*r*a*n says:

    (Received in an email this morning.)

    New slogans for United Airlines

    We have First Class, Business Class, and No Class.
    Our prices can’t be beaten…but our passengers can.
    We put the hospital in hospitality.
    We beat our passengers, not the competition.
    We have an offer you can’t refuse. No, really.
    Board as a doctor, leave as a patient.
    Not enough seating? Prepare for a beating.
    And you thought legroom was an issue.
    .If our staff need a seat, we’ll drag you out by your feet.
    We treat you like we treat your luggage.
    Fight or flight.
    You may have patients, but we don’t have patience.
    We have red-eye and black-eye flights available.
    Now serving free punch.

  20. Keep in mind a couple of factors that might be relevant.

    1. For all the news media attacks on cops, most police departments are careful to screen out potentially abusive people. They can cause the department a lot of grief. Thwarted there, those on a ‘power trip’ turn to security services. I know. I worked for one such service and one of its problems was screening out job applicants that police departments had the good sense not to hire. Those who removed this doctor seem to have been from some airport security team not local cops.

    2. Don’ forget the situation this doctor was in. He’d become an MD in Vietnam about 1970, fled the country with the communist takeover, and gone through the difficult process of acculturating to the U.S. and getting licensed to practice here about 1980. That is not easy. At about that time I knew someone who’d be a hospital administraton in Vietnam who was forced, for language reasons, to work as a nursing assistant.

    After practicing medicine for about 25 years, he lost his license due to drug-related charges that have not been clearly explained. After losing is livelihood for ten years, he was allowed to practice medicine again in 2015. Can you imagine how tough it would be to be foreign-born, not allowed to practice medicine for ten years, and re-enter medicine at about 67? No one is pointing that out.

    My hunch is that this doctor found it difficult to find patients and as a result was very loyal to those he did have. That’s why he was so insistent on being allowed to stay on the flight. We shouldn’t forget that this also wasn’t a matter of catching a flight a few hours later. These people were told that the next flight they could get would be about 24 hours later. Everyone has good cause not to give up their seat and this doctor more than most.

    • SilkRoadDog says:

      Except this Dr David Dao may not be the same one that lost his license. Two separate people. The middle names are different from some reports.

    • An Inquirer says:

      If he was just got his license back in 2015, he might have been very concerned about missing meetings with patients. He might have worried that the Board which had just reinstated him would wonder about his commitment to medicine if he missed patient appointments. MAYBE that is why he was especially anxious to get to his destination.

    • barry says:

      Aviation staff would have had no idea about the Doctor’s past, so while it may be interesting regarding his own actions, it’s a moot point regarding theirs.

      • An Inquirer says:

        Barry, you are correct that the doctor’s past is a moot point in regards to the action of aviation staff. They might have been following the protocol that they have, unaware of why that protocol had a profound effect on the doctor’s outlook. Meanwhile, airline staff cannot ignore their protocol based on unknown — and unverifiable — impact on particular passengers.

      • barry says:

        It seems they ignored protocol. According to the airport security deputy commissioner, security are instructed not to board without an imminent threat present.

  21. Bart says:

    It appears to me that the laws in the case are not as clear as they should be. On the one hand, this guy seems to be a troublemaker, and it grates a little to have him rewarded for being one. On the other, the civil rights marchers were troublemakers, too. Sometimes, you need troublemakers.

    Well, I will let the courts sort it out. Nothing I think or do will make a dime’s bit of difference anyway.

    • David Appell says:

      A troublemaker? Simply for insisting that he had purchased a seat and needed to use it?


      • george says:

        yes tell the officer you going to have to drag me off is a remake of a troble maker

      • barry says:

        Don’t see why. Having to mind so carefully what you say to the police is not the kind of state I want to live in. I should be able to tell police they’re being unreasonable or rude if they are being so without suffering repercussions.

        This issue has brought out some values among regulars we haven’t seen in the climate debates. Some have implied total deference to police, others have stood up for personal liberty against authority, among other things. I for one am glad to have seen new facets of regulars here, whether or not I agree with the points made.

  22. ossqss says:

    Has the behavior of the passenger before the police incident been documented? Did he create apprehension (a condition of assault) in other passengers or crew? That behavior in and of itself can and will play a considerable role in liability moving forward.

  23. Whatever says:

    The “Shoe Bomber” didn’t get beaten as hard as this guy.

  24. Jeff says:

    If union rules allowed for it, UAL could have put the four crew members that needed to be in Louisville in a cab/van/Uber/Lyft and driven them the 4.5 hours and avoided the seat auction and the bad pub.

  25. will says:

    We’ll see it how plays out. Rule 25 doesn’t apply but rule 21 does. Rue 21 has traditionally been interpreted loosely to be apllicable because of just about anything he flight crew says. “Rule 21, Refusal of Transport, UA shall have the right to refuse to transport or shall have the RIGHT TO REMOVE FROM THE AIRCRAFT AT ANY POINT, any passenger for the following reasons.” Once Dao became incooperatice he violated rule 21. If I were crew I’d certainly be reticent to allow a passengger to fly who was a belligerent as Dao. he was most assuredly disorderly. 1. Passengers whose conduct is disorderly, offensive, abusive, or violent;
    2. Passengers who fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew, federal regulations, or security directives;

    • Bart says:

      “Once Dao became incooperatice he violated rule 21.”

      That’s a bit of a catch-22, isn’t it? If he’s cooperative, he gets booted off the plane. If he isn’t, he’s non-cooperative, so he gets booted off the plane. Apparently, there is no way to avoid getting booted off the plane.

      Is that right? Is it just? I can see it from both sides, yes and no.

      Maybe it could be settled this way: Once a passenger is on the plane and seated, you cannot take his seat without mutually agreed upon compensation. The 4 seats were worth a lot to the airline, much more than they were offering. At some point, somebody would have come forward to relinquish his or her seat.

    • Mike Flynn says:


      Unfortunately, United has no way of removing you from the aircraft if you decline to obey instructions, contractual obligations notwithstanding.

      It might even be the case that a contractual dispute exists, where one party considers that the contract provisions are oppressive, and the company’s actions unconscionable. United would then be entitled to institute legal action in a civil court.

      United can of course inform any relevant law enforcement authorities if they are aware that laws are being broken. United conditions of carriage are not laws. The so-called aviation police may have no powers of arrest, in which case they have no more power to lay hands on another person than any other member of the public.

      Once you have breached any condition of a contract, the agreement is generally terminated in any case. So, if you fail to comply with any condition of the possibly 70,000 word contract, the contract fails to have any further effect between the parties. United cannot then rely on the contract, as one party has failed to comply. The contract is an agreement between two parties, and must be agreed by both.

      United would then have no more rights than any law allows. Informing law enforcement is usually the appropriate course of action, although citizen’s arrest powers exist. There are legal restrictions, of course. I’d be inclined to avoid beating someone up because you didn’t like where they were sitting.


      • GreginOakland says:

        No, not quite right. In this case, if indeed the passenger had some obligation under his contract with United to deplane when requested, and he failed to do so, then he has breached that contract. But one who breaches a contract does not make the contract void as to the other party(ies). The contract does not automatically “go away.” The non-breaching party still has recourse to all the enforcement and payment-of-damages rights specified in the contract itself, as well as any others afforded in the law. But in no circumstances does a mere contract breach authorize any use of force against the breaching person absent a court order. A commonly known example would be the requirement for a court order for the sheriff to physically remove a non-paying tenant, aka eviction. The landlord may not do it at his will. Similarly, a person cannot lose his right to liberty (i.e., be put in jail) for mere failure to pay his debts that arise from a private contract with another. Debtor’s prisons were outlawed a long time ago in the US and Britain. United’s only *legal* recourse would be to contact the recalcitrant passenger at the other end and try to implement whatever remedies it may have against him under its contract. None of its contract remedies include use of any kind of physical force whatsoever.

        • Mike Flynn says:


          Of course you’re correct.

          I should have expressed myself more clearly. As you say, landlord must comply with the law. Cannot just employ mindless thugs.

          I have not read United’s COC. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some conditions conflict with at least some Local, State, or Federal laws. Apple discovered that a country’s laws apply in that country, whether or not Apple thinks they should. It seems as though Uber faces this problem from time to time.

          I believe we agree that contract remedies do not include the use of physical force.


    • GreginOakland says:

      No, there was nothing showing his behavior was disorderly abusive or violent. He announced he had patients to see the next day, and stated clearly he would not get off the plane. He verbally insisted he would not exit the plane. He remained in his seat, threatened no one, and did nothing to threaten the security of the flight or its other passengers. The fact he exercised his right to use his ticket once seated on the plane does not establish he “failed to comply with or interfered with the duties of the members flight crew, federal regulations, or security directives.” He did none of those things. No one on the plane, flight crew or otherwise, had any duty (or right) to physically touch him if he refused to get off the plane. The request that he exit the plane had nothing to do with security issues. The request that he exit the plane was to protect only the economic interests of United airlines. The officers who tried to get him to agree to leave the plane, you will note, cited no federal regulation granting them authority to physically remove him, because there isn’t one that authorizes it under these circumstances. The law enforcement officer, one of three that came on the plane, physically assaulted him as he sat peacefully in his seat. The officer, and the other two with him who facilitated the violence, exceeded their authority in attacking him, which is a violation of the criminal law. In that instance, the passenger has the right to defend himself against that person, and other passengers even have the right to intervene to defend him as well. I applaud the passenger who refused to buckle under to the intimidation and criminal threats of these so-called officers. That is a man who fought for the rights of an individual in a free society, against forces that would prefer all bow to authoritarian intimidation and threats of violence.

  26. Mike Flynn says:

    Of course, this may be fake news –

    “At the top of the list of questions is whether the airport officers even had the legal authority to board the plane, said Alderman Michael Zalewski, who leads the council’s aviation committee.

    ‘They are allowed in the terminal and baggage area, but my understanding is they may not be allowed on a plane,’ he said. Zalewski also said that he is not sure if the officers have the authority to make arrests or if they are authorized only to write tickets.”

    Maybe the airport officers, the cabin crew involved, and the United CEO might benefit from 30 days of complying with all instructions in a corrections facility. No contract needed. Comply, or get beaten?


  27. An Inquirer says:

    One of the crazy features in this situation is that one can drive from Chicago to Louisville in a little over 5 hours. If the United had sent its crew members to Louisville in a nice van, they would have gotten there almost as soon as if they had flown — and they would have been more comfortable.
    Or the passengers could have been given that option.

  28. Plum tart says:

    I remembered my experience in flying was that North American companies had bad service and ugly food. Only asian premium airlines have good service and food.

  29. ren says:

    “While you sidestep the puddles and wrestle with your umbrella, be comforted by this: Northern California is going through the wettest rainy season on record.

    The region broke the 34-year-old record for precipitation in one year, the Department of Water Resources reported early Thursday.

    The eight-station index for the northern Sierra Nevada, a series of rain gauges positioned from Pacific House to the city of Mount Shasta, showed that 89.7 inches of inches have fallen since the water year began last fall.

    The old record was 88.5 inches, in 1982-83.”

  30. Buck Turgidson says:

    I didn’t know about the $1350 limit. That is ridiculous, why have any limit? Who set that rule (FAA?), and why $1350? Did “the government” “fix” another problem here?

    A bidding process seems simple, transparent, and fair. Start at $500. No takers, go to $750, and so on. You keep raising the bids until you’ve opened up your seats. What could be easier? The airlines have to remember that they are flying people, not sandbags or computer terminals. Make bumped passengers feel like they came out ahead. Wouldn’t cost the airlines much more in $$$, but no one getting bumped would grumble.

    They may not know it but they have a bit of a PR and image problem. Know anyone who talks up any US carrier? All I hear are complaints about shrinking seat sizes, smaller planes for longer routes, and not a decent bit of food in sight including first class. I was in 1st on a regional jet not long ago, and I would not consider the thing (in a can) they put on my table tray expecting me to eat as “food.”

    • Curious George says:

      What you propose is simple and natural. But it offers no room to employ government bureaucrats.

    • Rhee says:

      I posted this above, but I’ll put it here too. As I understand it to be, the “limit” is actually 4x the fare price for the domestic flight. Thus $1350 isn’t some magical number plucked from a nether orifice at DOT/FAA but is the 4x value of the fare for this flight to Louisville. The agencies likely set 4x (for domestic, it’s higher factor for intl) to assuage the airline companies’ need to maintain profits while constantly overbooking flights. In typical situations it works, but in such dire circumstance, it became a limitation to flexibility to negotiate with passengers sitting on the last flight of the evening.

      • Brian says:

        From what I’ve read the limit is either 2x or 4x the price of the ticket (based on how many hours you are bumped for) with a maximum cap of $1350. So unless your ticket cost $337.50 or less, you are not getting 4x the price. I’ve paid much more than the maximum compensation of $1350 before, so if they bump me, am I stuck with $1350 when I paid $2000 for the flight? I would say the maximum compensation should equal 4x the maximum ticket price. Airlines fly over our heads constantly, creating a safety hazard for everyone. Airlines use public airports and fly in public airspace, so airlines should be happy to obey our laws. And we need to enforce those laws.

  31. Aaron Rachlin says:

    You are spot on with all your arguments and points, Dr. Spencer. Nice work!

  32. barry says:

    Job Application requirements for Chicago aviation security.


    Dunno if this will prove more enlightening or less.

  33. kuhnkat says:

    There is a basic RIGHT of a business owner to expel a customer for any reason at any time. If their reason is not sufficient under the law, the customer can claim compensation and damages through the court.


    • GreginOakland says:

      False. You do not live in pre-war Germany. In America, contract interests cannot be enforced by any “business owner” through physical violence at the whim of the owner. All hail the mighty dollar, sure, but there are limits on that in a modern democracy based in proper procedure, and not in the arbitrary timing and whim of a business owner.

    • Mike Flynn says:


      Even in the US, I believe that their are very few situations where you may legally lay hands on another person. Self defence, trespass, citizen’s arrest spring to mind.

      However, as a business owner, if you have allowed a person entry, and subsequently decide to reverse your approval, you can’t just drag them off the premises at your whim.

      At most, you may be able to detain them, prior to calling the police, if you have reasonable suspicion they committed a criminal act. If the person in question was sitting quietly, in a seat they had paid for the right to occupy, not posing any apparent threat to anybody’s health and safety, I suggest that calling a couple of standover thugs to beat the person up and throw them out, might expose you to serious criminal charges.

      Actually, you may well have the right to forcefully resist an illegal and unwarranted assault upon your person, it’s called self defence. Of course, United made sure to use overwhelming force by employing three hefty wannabe cops (who presently are not authorised to carry weapons – thank God for that!), against a senior citizen who was obviously unable to resist, being confined in a sitting position in an airline seat.

      Maybe you’re a Warmist. How does expecting to receive a paid for service become forcefully resisting expulsion? Or would you call it re-accommodation, perhaps?

      Should the re-accommodated passenger thank United for the opportunity to experience the joys of participating in involuntary reconstructive surgery, or recovering in hospital, no doubt fully paid for in advance by United. As a little extra gift, I believe United thoughtfully sent the passengers luggage to a far distant place – apparently it would be far too much trouble to send it to his United hospital re-accommodation.

      Free food, comfortable bed, pyjamas and medical treatment supplied – who would not want be be beaten up by United’s enforcers?

      Go United!

      Maybe in the US you can beat up people at your whim. Not generally acceptable in a civilised society. Rather like calling for the death penalty for people who laugh at the ridiculous notion of CO2 having magic heating abilities!


    • Brian says:

      I believe United is a publicly traded company, so who is the business owner? What might apply to Mom and Pop’s Barbecue doesn’t necessarily apply to an airline. What might apply to a company operating on its own property doesn’t necessarily apply to an airline operating on public property (the airport and our skies).

  34. GreginOakland says:

    Thanks for the summary of how Rule 21 operates to protect the boarded passenger from forced ejection in an overbooked situation. However, I’m stunned at your unsupported assertion that the physician who needed to see his next day’s schedule of patients acted “immaturely” in exercising his rights to take advantage of that which he paid for, namely his ticket for passage back home. I would have done the same. He exercised what is clearly his right. There is nothing immature about that. How in the world do you support that “immaturity” assertion of yours??

    • Brian says:


      I agree. I didn’t see anything immature at all. I imagine I would have reacted the same way.

  35. dp says:

    The airline has the right to ask people to yield their seats and to offer compensation for the inconvenience. This guy’s problem started when the event triggered a hostile response and which he escalated. Had I been seated next to him I’d have offered a moratorium that he goes (because he appears insane and possibly dangerous) or I go, but I’m not flying next to somebody who can be easily triggered to fly off the handle while flying to God knows where. Now this is an interesting problem because they don’t like passengers to demand to be allowed to deplane once seated (tarmac delays come to mind).

    • Mike Flynn says:


      United has the right to ask anybody to do anything at all. Fortunately, they can’t compel you to do anything you don’t want to do, any more than you can beat up a crew member who doesn’t do your bidding quickly enough.

      Even the police have no right to compel you to do anything of your own volition, that you don’t wish to. You can have your liberty curtailed by means of arrest, but the police are generallly required by law to inform you that you are not required to say or do anything at all from that point.

      United don’t seem to have legal powers greater than those given to the police. If you don’t like the seat you were allotted, good luck with demanding that the airline allow you to sit where you wish! Threatening to beat up the cabin crew might not be the best idea.

      Even in the US, many police forces have a motto which includes the words “to protect and serve”. The words generally refer to members of the public, not United, or other companies with incompetent CEOs. If he’d been competent, the incident wouldn’t have occurred, unless it’s United’s corporate policy to expose itself to ridicule, and the possibility of a massive lawsuit, in an endeavour to overcome incompetence elsewhere, to save a few dollars.

      I suppose it goes to show that paying someone millions of dollars is no guarantee that they will exercise any common sense at all.


      • dp says:

        All passengers agree as part of being issued a boarding pass (no, nobody reads the agreement) to not become unruly, disorderly, abusive, and a number of other things while aboard a commercial aircraft and that they can be kicked off the plane when they are. He was and that is the singular reason he was carried off the plane. Why he became that way isn’t a consideration. People have been tossed off aircraft just for being creepy and making other passengers uncomfortable. In flight they can zip tie you to your seat and won’t let you up no matter how bad you have to pee.

        • Mike Flynn says:


          Couple of points. The man was physically assaulted by a couple of security guards – who weren’t even employed by United.

          He has apparently not broken any law. He was not arrested, has not been charged with a crime.

          Generally, you can not contract with another party to allow an illegal act to be performed upon you – for example, agreeing to be assaulted and knocked unconscious.

          You’re talking nonsense, and even the CEO of United now seems to agree. Of course, he’s facing the possibility of criminal charges himself, although I doubt that law enforcement will be interested in prosecuting. US justice in action.


        • Brian says:


          He was kicked off the plane because the airline wanted someone else in his seat. Refusing to get up is hardly unruly. So in your mind the act of saying no is reason enough to be kicked off the plane? And if he said yes he is still off the plane? Poor ol’ doc just can’t win in your book!

          • dp says:

            You don’t understand a single thing that happened in this event.

          • barry says:


            He was and that is the singular reason he was carried off the plane.

            What did he do that caused him to be asked to give up his seat in the first place?

      • dp says:

        It sounds like he gave them permission to drag him off the plane. The video does not include the initial contact between the flight crew and the passenger. This begins when the first LEO arrived.

      • barry says:

        The airline has publicly announced the reason he was asked to give up his seat and the video shows him being resolute, not belligerent. There’s no way he is at fault for being dragged off the plane and getting two teeth broken.

        • do says:

          The video is an example of the need for caution with end points. It is only a segment of the entire episode and one can conclude nothing from it.

        • barry says:

          Sure, there’s always a chance he was rowdier than we saw, but that goes against all the evidence we have, including latter remarks from the airline and passengers who witnessed.

  36. Dale G. says:

    Try to think of it from aviation security’s perspective. They get the call to go to the gate. When they get there, a UA official tells them that they have a passenger on board the flight who was bumped and has refused to get off the plane.

    Aviation security doesn’t have the time or expertise to determine what a passenger’s exact rights are under the contract of carriage and federal regulations. If the aircraft owners want someone off their plane, and he refuses to leave, aviation security considers it a trespass and enforces the owner’s rights.

    So they tell the guy he has to get off the plane and he refuses. At this point they have no choice but to drag him off the plane. Citizens do not have the right to refuse a reasonable request by law enforcement to step out of a vehicle. If we allowed citizens to defy law enforcement every time they felt they were in the right, there would be chaos.

    Aviation security were only doing their jobs. Dao’s clinging to his seat is what made this so gruesome, because it took so much force to pop him free that his momentum carried him across the aisle into an armrest. If he had allowed security to pull him out of the seat, this never would have happened. His injuries are his own fault. There is no need to change airline policy because one idiot didn’t do what he was told.

    • Mike Flynn says:

      Dale G,

      Aviation security have precisely no more right to lay hands on you than any other citizen, as far as I know. Contractual obligations are a civil matter – even the police will decline to intervene if no criminal act is involved.

      The security guards are not law enforcement. The passenger broke no laws. United sold the man a service, allowed him to board, take a seat, and then arbitrarily decide to renege on their obligations in an attempt to shift the responsibility for the incompetent management of their operations.

      Every citizen has the right to refuse to obey even a police direction. In a recent Supreme Court case, 3 judges supported the right of a citizen not to comply with a police direction to step out of a car.

      Did those 3 Supreme Court judges encourage chaos? Why did the matter even get to the Supreme Court!?

      United has already announced they intend to change their policy. Maybe you should demand that United keep the previous policy, and complain that the CEO should be fired for saying “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.”

      Or maybe he was apologising to the incompetent security guards who have been suspended for their actions. What do you think?

      You claim aviation security (whatever that means) were only doing their jobs. Quite apart from the fact that you have no clue about their duty statements, or their legal rights and obligations, the fact that they were all suspended might indicate that their employer might have thought they weren’t doing their jobs terribly well.


  37. Makoto H says:

    Thank you for the great article.
    Also, I’m happy to see one that clearly states UA 3411 did not have an overbooking issue as soon as United Airlines issued a statement stating such Tuesday.

    Ive seen lots of comments that we should follow the aviation security and I agree if they are performing a legal operation and operating according to local and state regulations.

    However, in this particular case, they weren’t. Even the head of the aviation security stated that the aviation security were not following standard operational procedure.

    To regurgitate,
    While they do have limited authority to make an arrest, Sundays incident was not within standard operating procedures nor will we tolerate that kind of action. That is why we quickly placed the aviation security officer on leave pending a thorough review of the situation, Aviation Department spokeswoman Karen Pride was quoted as saying. The action we have taken thus far reflects what we currently know, and as our review continues we will not hesitate to take additional action as appropriate.

    • barry says:

      The issue with overbooking is that it grants the airline a right to bar people getting on a plane. Those provisions were stretched way beyond their usual application in this case, not the least of which was the guy had already boarded. A spokesperson for the airline sent an email to the press advising the plane was overbooked (which is how the media then reported it), so it would seem there have been stuff-ups galore from various UA staff.

      • Mike Flynn says:

        One might even say that the airline assumes the right to sell that which it does not possess, and then blames the poor fools who mistakenly assumed they woukd actually get what they paid for!

        If someone sells me something, and takes my money, I’m silly enough to think I might actually get what I paid for. Not in the case of United, obviously. You’ll either get what you paid for, or a surprise gift – maybe a stay in hospital, a broken nose, or even permanent brain damage! Plus, as an added gift, an accusation of improper behaviour!

        Oh, the wonders of US business practice – the customer is always wrong, and an inconvenience to boot! With any luck, this philosophy will be adopted throughout the world. I can hardly wait! Bring on the thugs, and let slip the dogs of more (profits, that is).

        (That’s a poor play on Shakespeare, for anyone who missed the allusion.)


        • Lewis says:

          Good point.
          In my business I try to only sell what we can provide.
          No over booking.
          In this case, I expect United will lose, the airline industry in general will improve (marginally) their customer service and the flying public will benefit.

  38. RAH says:

    OT But I thought I would mention that the Oroville Dam Spillway is wide open. It ain’t over till it’s over and the Fat lady has not sung yet.


    • barry says:

      It is:

      Where no safety issue is reasonably implicated, even grouches have a right to gripe without being grounded.


      Plaintiff suffered these alleged torts only after an airline employee not otherwise involved in the incident politely told him that he “was going to have to leave the airplane or we are going to have to call the police,” to which plaintiff responded, “You are going to have to call the police,”…. By, instead, choosing not to disembark on his own and, rather, demanding that he be escorted off by the police, the plaintiff brought upon himself the “battery” and “false imprisonment” he seeks to attribute to the defendants.

      Edited for clarity.

      In this case, the defendant claimed assault for having his elbow touched. The rougher treatment may have a bearing in the current case.

      The doctor in the current case was less of a ‘grouch’, but he did indeed suggest to aviation security that they would have to drag him from the plane. I did not think that would have bearing in a court case, but it seems I am wrong.

  39. Brian says:

    The passenger wasn’t a problem until the airline tried to remove him from the seat he bought from them. You can’t claim the reason he was being removed was because he wouldn’t give up his seat and was therefore somehow dangerous. If he was never asked to give up his seat we wouldn’t be talking about this now. He would have been another peaceful passenger on a peaceful flight. He wasn’t removed because he wouldn’t obey orders to remove himself, which appears to be your argument. That doesn’t even make sense. He was removed because the airline wanted someone else in his seat.The airlines have grown accustomed to lying to their passengers about their rights. The airlines believe they can do whatever they like. Just because some corporation employs security guards or police doesn’t make that corporation’s word law.

  40. Barbara Lawlor says:

    Don’t fall for it. This man is a flagrant opportunist. After being a convicted drug dealer (public record), this man lucked out & was reinstated after 10 years. IMHO, he saw a way to “cash in,” on United. Once a crook…

  41. Mike Flynn says:

    “It was a system failure across various areas, so there was never a consideration for firing an employee or anyone around it,’ Munoz said during Tuesday’s quarterly earnings conference call.”

    That’s good. Nobody responsible – just another system failure!

    In a civilised country, condoning a physical assault on a peaceful fare paying passenger (apparently to avoid the cost of civil contract enforcement litigation), would result in criminal charges. If someone even threatened to inflict the same type of physical injuries on the United CEO, no doubt the real police, not to say the FBI, would be on his doorstep, and threats of lengthy terms of imprisonment would ensue.

    But if United organises a bashing – well, it’s just a system failure. The United CEO is obviously above the law.

    Maybe United needs to be honest, and advertise that attempting to actually use a ticket may result in serious personal injury or death. Munoz seems to be representative of the well paid CEO who believes that the legal system exists to enforce his commercial desires.

    And people wonder why many common people voted the way they did.


  42. none says:

    So, once i was already boarded when the airlines announced the Flight was cancelled. Did i have the right to stay on Board?

  43. Mike Flynn says:

    Fernando Del Valle, 38, was inside his Boyes Hot Springs, California, home on September 24 last year when Sonoma County deputy sheriff Scott Thorne used his weapon.

    Thorne was charged with felony assault and fired from the force over the incident.

    In the new video, Del Valle – a Marine Corps veteran – can be heard saying at the start of the clip: ‘Sir, I’m just laying here trying to sleep… I’m in my house.’

    Thorne is heard repeatedly shouting ‘stand up’ at the man, before he approaches the bed with his Taser drawn.
    Del Valle then says: ‘I got you on video, go ahead, Tase me.’
    The cop then fires his weapon at point blank range, hitting the 38-year-old on his bare chest.
    As the video continues, Del Valle is heard screaming in pain as he rolls around on the bed.

    Nope. No requirement to obey a police officer.

    The police officer was fired.


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