United Airlines and the Removal of Passengers

United Airlines and the Removal of Passengers

United Airlines Messed Up!

People are discussing United Airlines and the treatment of the Doctor who was dragged off the plane on April 9, 2017. I have a few thoughts on this issue, but first:

People are saying that the airlines has a right to take a person off the airplane if no volunteers leave after incentives are offered. They state that an airlines can pretty much do whatever they want and deny anyone their flight if need be.  People are also saying that the airlines can refuse boarding to a person if it is deemed appropriate.  Now, in general that may be true.  However, this past incident is much different than the normal “boarding refusal.”

Prior to a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, a passenger was physically removed from his assigned seat and dragged off the plane so that other United employees could get to Louisville.  The person removed was a doctor who had patients to see the following day.  He was a paying passenger and in his assigned seat.  There were no safety concerns with the doctor; nor were there any rules violations by the doctor.

United Airlines and those of you who think United had a right to remove this doctor from the airplane in the manner in which they did are not looking at the federal rules that apply in this situation.  This is NOT a “Denial of Boarding” issue, it is a “Refusal to Transport” issue.

In general, certain federal rules apply to carriers that are legally binding.  Overbooking flights fall under 14 C.F.R. 250.2b, which sets procedures for airlines to follow when a flight is overbooked.  The airlines can offer incentives to customers to change flights; they can deny people boarding a flight if incentives do not work, etc.

Sunday’s situation did not fall within 250.2b.  Sunday was NOT a boarding/denial of boarding situation.  The doctor had already boarded the plane and was seated in his assigned seat.  Once the boarding was completed, United personnel entered the plane and asked for volunteers to give up their seats so that United employees could make it to their next flight in Louisville.  Discussing this matter as a “Boarding” matter is completely wrong.

The proper Rule to be looking at in this matter is 14 CFR 253, which deals with the “Contract of Carriage.”  This rule applies once a person has lawfully boarded an aircraft.  This is actually a contract that protects the rights of passengers while on the aircraft.  Rule 253 also sets forth specific duties upon the carrier to ensure that passengers’ rights are protected.  These rule are there for a purpose and the rules of the airlines DO NOT over-ride these federal rules and requirements.  These rules basically state that unless there is a safety concern, and written notice is given, you will be able to fly to your destination.  In this case, there was no safety concern,  The flight was overbooked, that is it.

Next, United Airlines has it’s own Contract of Carriage Document which sets forth certain rules and procedures that their company and employees must follow.  Let’s look at Rules 21 and 25 of United’s Contract of Carriage.

First, let’s look Rule 25, which is the “Denied Boarding”  provision.  Rule 25 basically says that:

[Remember, this is PRIOR TO BOARDING A PLANE]

When there is an ‘Oversold UA flight” that originates in the U.S.A. or Canada, the following provisions apply: [The flight crew will:]

  1. Request for Volunteers to give up their seats;
  2. Use Boarding priority and preferences to determine who gets a seat, ie. passengers with disabilities; passenger’s with children; upgraded flight status members;
  3. If denied boarding, make alternative arrangements on other flights; and;
  4. Give adequate compensation for those involuntarily denied boarding;
  5. This provision explains payment form and manner in which payment is made to those who have been denied boarding; and then….,
  6. ….. there is provision 6….. the Limited Liability provision which states:

Limitation of Liability – If UA’s offer of compensation pursuant to the above provisions is accepted by the Passenger, such payment will constitute full compensation for all actual or anticipatory damages incurred or to be incurred by the Passenger as a result of UA’s failure to provide the Passenger with confirmed reserved space. If UA’s offer of compensation pursuant to the above provisions is not accepted, UA’s liability is limited to actual damages proved not to exceed 1350 USD per Ticketed Passenger as a result of UA’s failure to provide the Passenger with confirmed reserved space.

So, by trying to argue that the April 9, 2017 incident is a “Denial of Boarding,” is United trying to force the limited liability provision upon the doctor.  Are they saying that he is only entitled to $1,350.00?  Again, this passenger actually boarded the plane and was not denied boarding.  This argument by United is a total FAIL!!! Nice try United Airlines.

Now let’s look at Rule 21 of the United Airlines “Contract of Carriage Document.”  Rule 21 is the “Refusal of Transport” provision.  This is the provision that applies once a customer has lawfully boarded the airliner (in this case with a ticket and an assigned seat.)   Let’s walk through this rule together.  Rule 21 states as follows:

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:

  1. Breach of Contract of Carriage – Failure by Passenger to comply with the Rules of the Contract of Carriage.  Nope, this did not happen.
  2. Government Request, Regulations or Security Directives – Whenever such action is necessary to comply with any government regulation, Customs and Border Protection, government or airport security directive of any sort, or any governmental request for emergency transportation in connection with the national defense.  Nope, this does not apply either.
  3. Force Majeure and Other Unforeseeable Conditions – Whenever such action is necessary or advisable by reason of weather or other conditions beyond UA’s control including, but not limited to, acts of God, force majeure, strikes, civil commotions, embargoes, wars, hostilities, terrorist activities, or disturbances, whether actual, threatened, or reported. Nada…not here!
  4. Search of Passenger or Property – Whenever a Passenger refuses to submit to electronic surveillance or to permit search of his/her person or property. Nope, swing and a miss!
  5. Proof of Identity – Whenever a Passenger refuses on request to produce identification satisfactory to UA or who presents a Ticket to board and whose identification does not match the name on the Ticket. UA shall have the right, but shall not be obligated, to require identification of persons purchasing tickets and/or presenting a ticket(s) for the purpose of boarding the aircraft. No one ever said this was an issue with the Doctor.
  6. Failure to Pay – Whenever a Passenger has not paid the appropriate fare for a Ticket, Baggage, or applicable service charges for services required for travel, has not paid an outstanding debt or Court judgment, or has not produced satisfactory proof to UA that the Passenger is an authorized non-revenue Passenger or has engaged in a prohibited practice as specified in Rule 6. Nope, not behind this door either!
  7. (These don’t apply here) Across International Boundaries – Whenever a Passenger is traveling across any international boundary if:
    1. The government required travel documents of such Passenger appear not to be in order according to UA’s reasonable belief; or
    2. Such Passenger’s embarkation from, transit through, or entry into any country from, through, or to which such Passenger desires transportation would be unlawful or denied for any reason.
  8. Safety (hmmm let’s see)Whenever refusal or removal of a Passenger may be necessary for the safety of such Passenger or other Passengers or members of the crew including, but not limited to:
    1. Passengers whose conduct is disorderly, offensive, abusive, or violent; Nope
    2. Passengers who fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew, federal regulations, or security directives; Not this one
    3. Passengers who assault any employee of UA, including the gate agents and flight crew, or any UA Passenger; Don’t thing getting assaulted by = assulting anyone
    4. Passengers who, through and as a result of their conduct, cause a disturbance such that the captain or member of the cockpit crew must leave the cockpit in order to attend to the disturbance; Just a bit outside….Nope
    5. Passengers who are barefoot or not properly clothed;  Doctor’s stomach was showing… only because he was being dragged off the plane…. so, Nope!
    6. Passengers who appear to be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs to a degree that the Passenger may endanger the Passenger or another Passenger or members of the crew (other than a qualified individual whose appearance or involuntary behavior may make them appear to be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs); Nothing says he was intoxicated… Nope!
    7. Passengers wearing or possessing on or about their person concealed or unconcealed deadly or dangerous weapons; provided, however, that UA will carry law enforcement personnel who meet the qualifications and conditions established in 49 C.F.R. §1544.219; TSA sould have really failed if this occurred…. Nada again!
    8. Passengers who are unwilling or unable to follow UA’s policy on smoking or use of other smokeless materials;  Make me laugh…lol  NOPE!
    9. Unless they comply with Rule 6 I), Passengers who are unable to sit in a single seat with the seat belt properly secured, and/or are unable to put the seat’s armrests down when seated and remain seated with the armrest down for the entirety of the flight, and/or passengers who significantly encroach upon the adjoining passenger’s seat;  Don’t think this was the case either!
    10. Passengers who are manacled or in the custody of law enforcement personnel;  Only manacling would have occurred after he was taken off the plane.  So…. Nope!
    11. Passengers who have resisted or may reasonably be believed to be capable of resisting custodial supervision;  What the hell does this mean….Nope!
    12. Pregnant Passengers in their ninth month, unless such Passenger provides a doctor’s certificate dated no more than 72 hours prior to departure stating that the doctor has examined and found the Passenger to be physically fit for air travel to and from the destination requested on the date of the flight, and that the estimated date of delivery is after the date of the last flight;  Don’t think he was pregnant!?! 
    13. Passengers who are incapable of completing a flight safely, without requiring extraordinary medical assistance during the flight, as well as Passengers who appear to have symptoms of or have a communicable disease or condition that could pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others on the flight, or who refuse a screening for such disease or condition. (NOTE: UA requires a medical certificate for Passengers who wish to travel under such circumstances. Visit UA’s website for more information regarding UA’s requirements for medical certificates);  No facts to support any of this!
    14. Passengers who fail to travel with the required safety assistant(s), advance notice and/or other safety requirements pursuant to Rules 14 and 15; Nope, not here either!
    15. Passengers who do not qualify as acceptable Non-Ambulatory Passengers (see Rule 14); Nope, sorry!
    16. Passengers who have or cause a malodorous condition (other than individuals qualifying as disabled); Another swing and a miss!
    17. Passengers whose physical or mental condition is such that, in United’s sole opinion, they are rendered or likely to be rendered incapable of comprehending or complying with safety instructions without the assistance of an escort. The escort must accompany the escorted passenger at all times; Nothing here either! and
    18. Unaccompanied passengers who are both blind and deaf, unless such passenger is able to communicate with representatives of UA by either physical, mechanical, electronic, or other means. Such passenger must inform UA of the method of communication to be used;  lol, not even close! and
    19. Passengers who are unwilling to follow UA’s policy that prohibits voice calls after the aircraft doors have closed, while taxiing in preparation for takeoff, or while airborne. A bogus policy, but not applicable to this case!

So, clearly there was no reason under Rule 21 to have the passenger removed from the airplane.

The real reason the passenger was removed from the airplane was to allow for other United Airlines employees to take those seats so they could get to Louisville for their next flight.  Why could they not have driven to Louisville?  Why could United not have gotten them seats on other airlines?  Why did they interfere with this passenger’s trip without consideration of the medical patients that he was supposed to see the next day?  Why??? Because they are a huge corporation and do not believe that the rules apply to them.  A little law suit will only be a drop in the bucket to their multi billion dollar business.  Pretty pathetic, but it is a fact of life.  United has already tried to spin this by saying that the passenger was “unruly”… Really?  How about assaulted, embarrassed, humiliated, with a little intentional infliction of emotional distress added on top!  United, this one is gonna hurt!

Thoughts and comments are welcome.

Until next time,




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