This blog posting represents the views of the author, David Fosberry. Those opinions may change over time. They do not constitute an expert legal or financial opinion.

If you have comments on this blog posting, please email me .

The Opinion Blog is organised by threads, so each post is identified by a thread number ("Major" index) and a post number ("Minor" index). If you want to view the index of blogs, click here to download it as an Excel spreadsheet.

Click here to see the whole Opinion Blog.

To view, save, share or refer to a particular blog post, use the link in that post (below/right, where it says "Show only this post").

Assault On A United Plane!

Posted on 11th April 2017

Show only this post
Show all posts in this thread.

Social media is abuzz with this story (reported here by the BBC) of the doctor being forcibly assaulted and forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight awaiting departure from a Chicago airport on Sunday evening.

The BBC report contains a shocking video of the man being dragged from the flight by three security personnel. He ended up with his face covered in blood (his own blood).

United's only explanation seems to be that the flight was overbooked, so they were trying to get 4 volunteers to make space for 4 members of United staff who needed to fly in order to work the next day. There were not enough volunteers, so they picked the doctor and his wife; a doctor who also needed to fly in order to be at work the next day. To me, that reason does not constitute an excuse.

I don't know how you see this, but I feel that getting a doctor to work is much more important than getting flight crew to work.

If you don't fly frequently, you may not realise that overbooking is common. A certain number of people don't turn up for their flights, and to avoid empty seats the airline often overbooks, and that sometimes means that there are not enough seats on the flight (more information on overbooking here).

United Airlines, however, is behaving as if the overbooking was something done to them by some third-party, whereas they did it to themselves.

Normal procedure is that passengers are offered compensation for not flying on overbooked flights (another flight, meal vouchers, a paid overnight stay in a hotel, an additional flight at a later date, etc.). If there are no volunteers, the offer is usually improved until passengers do volunteer. It is not clear from the BBC report whether any compensation was offered, nor whether the offer was improved when there were not enough takers (or none at all).

My take on this is as follows:

  • The passengers, including the poor doctor, had a contract to be transported by United or their agents to their destination. United Airlines is in breach of contract for ejecting a passenger from the flight without their agreement.
  • United were trying to make room for their staff to fly. Those staff, as United employees, have a duty to assist in honouring any contracts that the airline has, with passengers or whoever else, and that duty means that they are the ones who should have been bumped from the flight.
  • The airline has a moral, and probably legal, duty to take into account the importance of a given passenger taking a flight, and clearly the need of the doctor trumps that of the United staff, but there is no report of them taking that into account.
  • Under no circumstances is it appropriate nor legal to assault someone (unless there are valid and provable security concerns, or a crime is being commissioned by the passenger) and to cause actual bodily harm to remove them from a flight.

There is a lot of social media commentary, with many people suggesting not to fly United. To me, that is not news. I have flown them a few times, and they have always been rubbish: cramped seats, broken TV/audio systems and poor service (more attitude than service). When my girlfriend flies home to Chicago, she tries very hard to ensure that she flies with Lufthansa (difficult to ensure, since United is a code-share partner with Lufthansa); she pays exactly the same price for United as for Lufthansa, but the Lufthansa flight is much better all around. For me, United are in strong competition with British Airways to be the worst airline in the west (if you want to know what I have against BA, click here.

I suggest that people vote with their wallets, and fly with any airline other than United, even if it costs more, or involves a more circuitous route. At the end of the day, people (and especially companies) only pay attention when it costs them money.

I also hope that the grossly abused doctor sues them, and that criminal charges are also filed.