Four years ago, United Airlines went back to being known as the “Fly the Friendly Skies” airline. But that slogan may be grounded again after a recording showing police at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport dragging a screaming and bloodied passenger off a flight on Sunday. Was the passenger drunk and belligerent? No. The flight to Louisville, Kentucky was overbooked, according to United, and the man had been randomly selected by computer to be booted — after passengers had already been seated. When he refused, he was forcibly removed.
Airlines are allowed to “bump” passengers when flights are overbooked. Before that, the U.S. Department of Transportation requires them to seek out volunteers before anyone is kicked off. Volunteers are often rewarded with cash, hotel stays and/or vouchers for free air travel. In this case, United needed to open up four seats, and three people volunteered. They were offered $800 cash and a hotel stay. When a fourth could not be found, a passenger was randomly selected by the computer.
In his case, the individual said he was a doctor who needed to see patients on Monday, according to witnesses. As the video shows, the situation ended with the man, with blood on his face and his glasses ajar, being dragged up the aisle while passengers shouted objections. “Oh my God, look at what you did to him,” one woman cries. So who were these four passengers who needed to get on the flight? They were United Airlines employees. So, no, United won’t be earning any points for friendliness — or ingenuity — this week. Here’s an idea: Don’t overbook the flight.