Don’t Blame Overbooking for This United Mess

Overbooking, United

Remember how bad last week was for Delta’s operation? If you do, you’re the only one. As of yesterday, Delta’s problems were forgotten. Once the video surfaced of a man being dragged off his oversold United Express flight, bloodied and battered, the public moved on to its next fascination of the moment. This looked really bad, without question, and the uproar was fierce. I received inquiries from more than half a dozen media outlets, and the tidal wave of emails and texts from friends was more than anything I’d seen in a long time. As bad as this may be for United, there is something that’s unfairly getting dragged through the mud: overbooking. The two issues are completely and totally unrelated.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this incident itself, but I will go over a few points. The United Express aircraft operated by Republic was full and boarded. Republic crewmembers showed up at the gate saying they had to get on or a subsequent flight would have canceled, stranding dozens. If it’s not clear enough, I’ll say it. This wasn’t an overbooking issue, despite some earlier reports that may have come from United itself. There was just an operational need to get crew on the airplane.

United tried to get volunteers (arguably not hard enough) but couldn’t, so eventually, United’s customer service reps identified the people who would have to be pulled off. One person repeatedly refused to obey the requirement that he get off the airplane, and the police were called in to remove him. You’ve seen the video of what happened next.

We can talk about whether this could have been handled better or not, but it doesn’t matter. United is getting skewered regardless, and it’s a runaway train. The memes are spiraling out of control, and I can’t help but laugh. Here’s one of my favorites.

I originally thought this would hurt the airline for maybe a day… until the next person with a camera phone caught something and the world moved on. But this one may have some staying power, some of it thanks to United’s response. So be it. Debating the details won’t change anything, but maybe I can at least help salvage the reputation of overbooking.

JetBlue continues to be the lone straggler that refuses to overbook, but for everyone else, it’s a regular part of doing business. And airlines have invested a ton of money and effort into developing systems that have made them smarter and better at this. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this table from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. For travel within the US on reporting carriers, the percentage of people denied boarding fell to a mere 0.09 percent in 2015, the last full year of easily accessible data. This is even more remarkable when you consider how much more full airplanes are today. Look here.

Since 2003 (the last year of easily accessible load factor data), airlines have filled a much higher percentage of seats while seeing their denied boarding percentages drop.

It’s a solid achievement, but maybe you think that still sounds like a lot. After all, it amounted to a total of 552,000 people, or 1,512 people a day in 2015. But what you have to remember is that the vast majority of the people being denied boarding are really, really happy about it.

There are two kinds of denied boardings. More than 90 percent of the people who were denied boarding in 2015 did so as volunteers. The airline made an offer to get them to take a later flight, and the travelers accepted. They walked away with a slight inconvenience, but they got vouchers for future travel and were almost definitely happy about it. The airline was happy too, because chances are it was able to take an expensive last minute booking that it otherwise would have had to turn away.

It’s that other sub-10 percent that’s the problem. Specifically in 2015, 46,000 people, or about 126 a day, were involuntarily bumped off airplanes. That means the airlines tried to get volunteers and they couldn’t, so they were forced to pick and choose which people would get bumped. While the travelers undoubtedly weren’t happy, federal rules ensure that an involuntary bumpee gets a big payday; up to 4 times the value of the ticket capped at $1,350. Oh, and she still gets to keep the ticket to go on the next available flight.

Everybody hates those situations, because they’re terrible. When people don’t want to get bumped but are forced out (preferably not physically forced, mind you, Chicago Aviation Police). And the airlines have to pay out a ton of cash, so they aren’t happy either. But the number is so miniscule, at 0.008 percent of passengers in 2015 that it’s really just a rounding error. (No, it doesn’t feel that way if you’re impacted, but it’s the truth.)

On the whole, the airlines make more money overselling flights than they lose paying out compensation. And this actually does help keep fares lower. If airlines couldn’t oversell flights, they would generate less revenue overall and have to find a way to recoup those costs. You can connect the dots on what that means. Of course, if enough people were impacted that the pain was too great, then either the airlines or the feds would do away with overbooking. But considering how many people benefit from being on an oversold flight and volunteering to get paid (over 550,000 in 2015), it’s not something that a lot of people WANT to go away.

Feel free to jump on the “United sucks” bandwagon if you must (don’t forget to drag the Chicago Aviation cops down with you), and you won’t be alone. But stop dragging (get it?) overbooking’s good name through the mud. (And to the media, please stop reporting that this was an overbooking issue.)

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261 comments on “Don’t Blame Overbooking for This United Mess

  1. 2 years ago I was called to the UA podium in STL and was offered 2 $600 vouchers to take a later flight (on DL) to Burlington, VT. I was travelling with my Mother for her birthday trip and gladly took the 2 hour delay. Much like this incident, they needed to get crew to EWR for a TATL flight.
    I can imagine some clueless group of politicians messing up the whole voucher proess over this incident. Yes, its a publicity nightmare for UA, but on the whole the voucher system works well, especially earlier in the day.

  2. Not sure how this situation is categorized as an overbooking issue.

    Aren’t we talking about about UA employees having an operational issue? I don’t see how this is the same as the airline overbooking a flight that has paid passengers being asked to voluntarily be delayed with compensation. Typically, I have seen the airline ask for volunteers prior to boarding, not involuntarily kicked off a flight (just may not have been my experience).

    Would the UA CEO share the same sentiment if it was a Middle Eastern airline treating an American citizen the same way on one of their flights?

    The lack of humanity towards a fellow person by both UA and the police is the most disappointing of all…

  3. Let’s add another level to the blame. Whose employees are the gate agents and dispatchers for Republic flights at O’Hell? It seems like there’s enough blame to go around to just about everybody involved in this incident. I suspect United’s contract with Republic probably specifies that passengers will be treated in a manner consistent with United’s own practices. (You can interpret that any way you like). At least United never did anything particularly vile to me that they didn’t do to everybody else on the flight.

    That being said, if I were a gate agent at O’Hell, no matter what airline, I think by the time the last flights out are being processed, I’d be pretty fed up dealing with the traveling public, and I might just shrug my shoulders and send in the storm troopers, too. Diplomacy has its limits.

  4. Perception versus reality. Which do you think has more staying power? You can argue the facts with Power Point slide shows till the Rapture. It doesn’t matter. In the Court of Public Opinion (which I’ve long argued is as strong if not stronger than any judicial one), if it’s bad, it’s bad. I do agree that this will likely blow over and be forgotten. Of course if it isn’t, then this is the type of PR debacle that very well could put UAL out of business. Ask the folks who were at Valujet if you want a second opinion. United is probably counting on myopic attention spans to get them through this. And sadly, I have to agree that the odds are on their side. Boycotts are by and large, a relic of the past. We still see threats (such as this one), but few-if any-of them ever actually pan out (kind of like those one day gas boycotts) for the simple reason that in order for them to be effective, it means that people have to endure some inconvenience of their own and go without by buying/using less. you *really* think people are gonna give up their 2500 mile trips to lay on the beach or see Mickey Mouse? Not a chance pal. And meanwhile, UAL gets another pass for egregious misconduct.

    1. I think ValuJet did just fine in the end. Sure, the brand was trashed, so to fix that they just went out, bought AirTran, and took AirTran’s name.

      I agree that the threat of public boycotts is mostly smoke, there’s no fire there. At worst people might try to book away from United in the short term, but as soon as United is a couple hundred bucks cheaper than American/Delta/Southwest/Alaska, they’ll be back.

      1. The problem that makes this situation very different is that the video has gone viral in China. Even though the Dr. was of Vietnamese ethnicity, he was seen to be Asian and you can bet that will have a huge impact on United’s ability to get landing and gate rights in Asia even though the incident may not have been racially motivated. It was that fear that resulted in the abject apology from UA, finally getting it about right after 3 tries.

      2. -Except that….they weren’t, which was why they had to ditch the ValuJet name and image in the first place, which you admitted to. The brand was damaged beyond repair. They were facing certain liquidation because of the fallout from #592 and the subsequent crucifying from the FAA. And it was the reasons for the crash and company culture that were to blame, not the crash itself.

    2. Whatever happened to all the little lefty lovies who threatened to leave the USA if DJT were elected? Yep, still here, still yapping, still looking ridiculous. They haven’t done jack because they are too comfy here, and just like to whine and seek attention.

  5. Cranky, you nailed it. United and its partner didn’t offer enough to induce the fourth person to leave the airplane, whomever he or she might be. I recognize that the actual fare would have been far less than the denied boarding (which, knowing the thin margin airline industry, was all that mattered) but so what. The cost to United in public relations problems far exceeds any denied boarding compensation that would have been paid to bumped passengers.

    You nailed it again in alluding to what became a comedy of operational errors. Someone at the podium goofed by allowing the plane to board. Period. The only forgiveness for boarding would be if the crew members showed up at the last minute after the plane had already boarded. At that point, the gate agent was in a mess.

    Finally, the gate team could have simply said to the people on the plane, “we can’t leave until we have one additional volunteer.” Of course, that might cause the plane to be late and affect what really mattered — on-time performance bonuses.

    If Oscar is a true airline executive, he needs to send an edict out: “Do what’s best for cash flow!!!”

    1. United totally ignored economics. The agent should have waived cash – not those ridiculous and useless vouchers – and kept upping the amount until the cash value overcame the disruption value for a passenger. $1500 cash would have been far cheaper than the mess they are in now. Not only that, but given that ORD is barely 4.5 hours from Louisville by car they could have hired a limo and had the crew there almost as fast as the plane – much faster in this case given how delayed it became. I think a big problem is that 9/11 and our over-reaction has caused an us v them attitude of crew v passengers. Passengers are now considered the enemy. Civility no longer exists on most airlines.

  6. United seems to have a penchant for this kind of publicity. Without knowing the departure time of the flight the crew was to take out of SDF, it is only a 4.5 hour drive from CHI to SDF and were there not AA and WN flights on that segment?

    This on top of their previous faux pas (there was the 2014 stranding of a Benedictine monk in Malawi and the broken guitar in 2008 ) you’d think that the organizational memory (and training) would better serve UA.

    Kind regards,


    “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler

    1. Were it that easy. This was the last flight of the evening, maybe no time to rebook them on another airline (given the size of Ohare to get to AA or go to Midway to WN). 5-6 hours drive to SDF you say ? Maybe they had to crew an early morning flight, when would they have gotten the required sleep ?

  7. “On the whole, the airlines make more money overselling flights than they lose paying out compensation. And this actually does help keep fares lower. If airlines couldn’t oversell flights, they would generate less revenue overall and have to find a way to recoup those costs.”

    I wholeheartedly disagree that the purpose of overbooking is a way to recoup costs. Let’s call it what it is and it is nothing more than the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake.

    I do agree that this is not an overbooking issue and the media has explicitly discussed it as such. This is a straight up customer service issue that spiraled out of control. United blew it and the O’Hare Police blew it as well.

  8. It’s one thing to bump folks from a flight for overbooking (or whatever the hell this was) when people haven’t boarded yet and they don’t have the emotional/psychological investment in being “on” the plane – it’s a lot easier for someone to give up a seat that they aren’t literally sitting in at the moment.

    I think most folks are aware that overbooking exists, but to the extent that it happens, the “fairest” way for it to happen is for the people who show up last/late to get the bump rather than the people who are already seated on the flight – that’s probably part of the reason this particular “deboarding” seems particularly horrifying. And each new fact that comes out just makes it worse (i.e., that it wasn’t even overbooking, but united bumping paying passengers for its own crew who rolled up at the last minute, etc.)

    I used to do a lot of corporate travel, and had to change flights constantly – I’m probably part of the reason that overbooking exists (and trust me, I really didn’t want to continually postpone flights so that I could sit in windowless conference rooms for days and weeks “extra” when we couldn’t get through deal negotiations!), but given the cost of the international business class tickets I was actually flying on back then, the airline was making a pretty nice bundle on me, regardless of when I actually flew.

    1. Full agreement. Cranky look at your own post. You are annoyed people call it overbooking and restate it’s more of an issue of “denied boarding” this guy had already boarded the flight!

      The United/Republic mistake was letting the passengers board in the first place. Had they done the correct thing and not allowed the passengers to board before re-assigning flights this would have never happened.

      1. By extension, the real problem was the deadheading crew’s apparent lack of communication. The way I’ve read it (correct if wrong) it seems like they just showed up at the gate 15min before departure and expected to be seated. It could have been incompetence by the crew, just some emergency that legitimately occurred 15min before the flight (unlikely?), or lack of company policy (employees at other airlines I talked to said that sort of thing requires notification >1hr in advance),

    2. At any point if for any reason the airline have more butts than they have seats, they are required by federal regulation to follow their own pre-established priority list (after attempting to find volunteers). This is true regardless of whether or not the lowest priority tier has already boarded, and it is called involuntary denial of boarding even if they have.

  9. Reading this has provided me with a different view of the when situation and allowed me to understand the importance and benefits of overbooking by airlines. The statistics of volunteers to the issue surprises me. However, I still fail to see how this is headlined as “not an overbooking issue”.

    This entire incident was created from overbooking – that is a fact. Many other factors like you have said have really blown this up to be bigger than a public viral one-day bonanza. The response from Oscar Munez has only dug himself and the airlines reputation? a much, much bigger whole. Also important to remember that the passenger may not want to disembark due to commitments that cannot be changed or satisfied by a $800 compensation fee.

    Poor bloke

    1. I think the distinction here is that this overbooking situation wasn’t caused by the practice of selling more seats than the plane physically has. The plane was only overbooked when the decision was made that the four crew members needed to be on the flight.

      1. Does that distinction change how United would have tried to entice volunteers or remove the passenger?

        1. I think the distinction is this: If booking is closed, and at that time the plane isn’t overbooked, then it’s no longer covered by the overbooking rules. Rather, it’s determined by the contract of carriage. On that, there’s a limited list of things the airline can bump you for. Bad weather, force majeure, drunkenness, aggression etc. However, if those things didn’t apply, the United may have breached the contract. That might still have been cheap to do. BUT, add in physical force to breach a contract? That’s a whole world of difference. Use of force to enforce a contract might be reasonable. Use of force to breach a contract. Lordy, lordy, his lawyers would be salivating.

  10. Well. . . I am guessing that the UAL pass riders were utilizing Positive Space passes, that are high priority. One of the first things that Leo Mullen & his cohorts at Delta did after the Ron Allen era was vote themselves lifetime first class positive space passes that were bankruptcy proof. & I bet people were not boarded on Delta because of this slick undeserved benefit.

        1. If you are unaware, in this instance, deadheading crew members were “must rides,” then seems to me you should be asking questions – not making statements.

      1. So, if it was Republic, it was a crew of 4. Why didn’t one of the pilot’s take the jumpseat and reduced the number of needed seats to 3. Pretty damn brazen of the pilots to deplane a paying passenger when one of them had an option. As an airline pilot, I would NEVER bump a revenue passenger or even a stand-by trying to get on when I had the option of the flight-deck jumpseat. Just good etiquette and professionalism!

        1. More than likely contractually prohibited. Question may seem reasonable, but it is NOT! During deadhead segments, crews are permitted to rest/sleep – on jumpseat, they are NOT, as jumpseat rider automatically become member of working crew.

          Thats airline 101!

          Besides, can you imagine backlash if pilot took jumpseat, then on subsequent working flight had incident and investigation revealed United permitted/insisted he/she take jumpseat instead of cabin seat where they could have rested their eyes and quited their mind?

          1. I’m glad you know so much about the airlines since I’m an airline pilot myself. It IS permitted to sit on the jumpseat as a deadheader and I do it if needed to get more folks on. Republic’s contract stipulates that they don’t have to sit in the jumpseat but they can if they want to. I know this because my husband was trying to fly stand-by on a flight that just happened to have a Republic deadhead crew on board. The CA from my airline knew there were non-revs/stand-bys trying to get on and asked the Republic Pilots if they would take the jumpseats in the cockpit and they graciously did. Airline 101 is being courteous too and yes, you can’t sleep on the jumpseat but for a short flight, who cares and it’s NOT prohibited in ours or their contracts when deadheading.

            Have a fabulous day! Aloha!

            1. Actually, taking jumpseat “to get more” non-revs; standbys boarded is quite different than being assigned jumpseat during deadhead segment.

              Besides, considering extremely long work days at regionals, it may be unwise to politely ask deadhead crew members to take jumpseat
              – which you somehow believe is “courteous” act, but may, in fact, prevent a much needed break, which is a safety issue.

              If deadheader volunteers, that’s a different story – but they should NEVER EVER EVER be asked as you do not know the type of work day they are enduring, or have yet to endure.

              I suggest you read background of express flight incident at Buffalo and ponder reaction(s) if investigation determined one or more of pilots, in course of their work day, took jumpseat during deadhead segment. We are already aware of concern when it was determined one of the crew commuted to work previous night via jumpseat and how those concerns initiated change to mandated US government rest rules.

              I concede your statement(s) reflect want of kindness, but in the long run, is loaded with waayyy too too many potential problems that faaaar outweigh any perceived benefit.

              If it has been your practice to ask deadhead to take jumpseat, STOP!
              A well rested crew; Airline safety 101

            2. I never said our airline assigned the jumpseat for deadheading. It’s our option and especially for a short flight like ORD to SDF, I would take the jumpseat to get a non-rev on or definitely in the case of a revenue passenger! I believe this crew was going into crew rest in SDF so if that’s the fact, why worry? It’s a DH into a rest period. I’ve been a pilot at the regionals as well with those long days and I made prudent decisions about my rest with regards to a DH leg and my own personal factors. You are way to black and white. At my current airline, for DH legs, we often get middle seats in the back of the airplane. I don’t know about you, but I can relax much better and have more room to stretch my legs if I’m sitting in the jumpseat in the cockpit or in the FA jumpseat!! I may not be able to sleep on the JS but it beats being squished sitting between two 300 pounders that are flowing into my seat on either side. The Buffalo incident wasn’t a DH issue. It was a commute issue and that will ALWAYS be problematic. The new 117 rules fatigue pilots much more than the previous rest rules BTW. I’ve never had my body clock so messed up until those rules were imposed and any airline pilot will tell you that the new “rest” rules are far worse .

            3. Oh my! Janet, Janet Janet, just because you, while deadheading, would opt for jumpseat does not mean you should ask or otherwise suggest the same for another, EVER!

              Nor, for that matter, should you create environment whereas another crew member feels compelled, implicit or implied – for WHATEVER reason(s), to forgo cabin seat for jumpseat, EVER!

              If you choose to opt for jumpseat, you are commended. But never ever ever pressure deadheader, and the way you avoid appearance of doing that is to never ever ask, ever! Did I say NEVER even for those heading for layover because they may be subject to reassignment at arrival.

              BTW, the Buffalo incident investigation, in part, involved looking at commute that included jumpseat

              At times, out of eager to assist, one can instead leave a trail of self created problems.

            4. Please delete your comment ASAP. I don’t want my name used in the comments!!!

      2. deadheading crew movements do qualify as positive space (and must ride). As soon as they are slated for that flight the airline is required by law to ask for volunteers, and then if they find none to use their own predefined priority list when determining who to bump. This federal requirement does not change if the low priority passengers have already boarded.

  11. Uncle Sam calls it denied boarding because people should be bumped before they board, emphasis on before. While they obviously should have upped the compensation before removing someone, I’d be curious to see why they didn’t know about this crew issue before the people started boarding. That would have probably nipped this issue in the bud.

      1. There’s 99% chance that it would’ve been resolved much more favorably at the gate then on the plane.

    1. Uncle Same requires you by law to follow your published priority list if you have to bump someone, even if the lowest priority tier has already boarded.

  12. United did this the United way, and never bothered to think through the problem. The correct solution (and usually used by other carriers) is you auction off the seats. You keep raising the offer until you have enough volunteers. If that costs more than $1350, so be it. It avoids this kind of nightmare and keeps the customers happy. This is in fact a cost of how United elects to do business. Since this was an involuntary, those involved are in fact free to decline the airline’s offer, and sue (as Ralph Nader did many years ago).
    This was incompetently managed, but unfortunately it is unlikely that anyone at United will be held accountable for their incompetence. Frankly no matter what United might have had to pay to buy the seats back, it would probably have been less expensive than this is going to turn out to be.

  13. Cranky,
    Since when does a paying customer’s livelihood take a back seat to an operational blunder. I say put those 4 in a car and have them drive to Louisville. And I heard (I can’t say that it is true) that their flight was scheduled at 3 PM on Monday. SO by driving they can arrive and still get their 10 hours.

    1. They can’t drive the crew to SDF. First of all, it’s closer to five hours without the time change. Secondly, they probably would have been illegal the next morning due to lack of rest.

      1. A limo would have worked just fine and they could have slept all the way to KY. If you have a creative staff that starts with the premise of wanting to avoid a problem, it’s easy to find solutions. If you don’t give a sh*t about the outcome then you just always fall back on force and coercion and hang the consequences.

        1. No its not because their are rest regulations and union contracts and violating either of those are not in the cards for an airline, this was the 1-1000 case where this happens and gets noticed most of the time its not a story at all

    2. Interesting comment that reveal a lot about direction of this country.

      I don’t know about you, but I want Captain and crew to be rested, well fed and happy! A safe operation should always take these into account over “paying customer’s livelihood.”

      1. Wish it was like that “Hey”. Crews have to fly up to 14 hour duty days and up to 9 hrs of flying as well as red-eyes that get in at 5 in the morning and turn around and require flying 2 or 3 legs that evening and then flipping the clock back to mornings for day 3. We get no crew meals at our airline and we are paid 40% less for flying the same equipment as our competitors so the pilots aren’t happy either. We fly safe and stay safe but we have to rise to the occasion and eat a lot of McDonalds. BTW, those schedules are compliments of those new fancy rest rules!!!!

      2. “Hey” – You make it sound like United was handcuffed and forced to reduce their crew ranks to the lowest they’ve been since the inception of the airline, thus producing the very situation we are discussing. Everyone keeps skipping past the part where United had all the choices, and the passengers had none. Don’t try and make this about anything other than what it is: Poor planning on United’s part coupled with bad luck that caused them to lose their bets on the number of passengers willing to give up their seats when bribed to do so.

        I think the direction of this country changes easily, and upon witnessing the shameless mistreatment of a paying passenger, with the sole purpose of enabling the airline to continue to operate in an understaffed manner, the country will wake up and realize how much power they have given to the likes of the CEO of United.

        You want more safety? Hire more crew. Don’t like the idea of idle crew? Then stop overbooking. Don’t like the idea of 4-5 empty seats per flight? Then lower the price of the tickets and they will get filled nicely. Don’t like the idea of lower profits due to lower ticket prices? Then tell your stockholders to “reaccomodate” their investments to an industry that doesn’t care about safety 1st.

        1. Get a grip! Since when does pax have any “choices” other than which airline to fly and price willing to pay.

          Flying has always and will remain at pleasure of Mother Nature and airline operation – to include, cargo (weight and balance), manning, federal and int’l regulations, labor contracts, etc.

          I would suggest; save yourself the heartache, if you want more choice then there’s always the private option, or like JFK Jr, fly yourself and have all the control you desire.

          In the interim, despite purchasing a ticket and issued seat assignment, when airline personnel, for whatever reason ask you to deplane, I suggest you do so and complain later. They are doing it for a reason that you may not understand and it is NOT personal.

          And here’s a hint! If it ever happens to you, you can almost always get compensation that you want – that is, if you remain nice and kind, because agent more than likely feels worse than you do about inconvenience.

          In the meantime, STOP trying to control everything – it’s NOT always about you!

          1. If “They are doing it for a reason you may not understand,” then they (the airline employees) have an obligation–at least a moral and ethical obligation, if not always a legal obligation–to explain the reasons fully and and to convince you that the reasons justify the action.

            1. Absolutely ridiculous! Since when does airline need “to explain the reasons fully and and to convince you that the reasons justify the action” for weather cancellation/delay, mechanical, late arriving aircraft/crew, change your flight due to weight restriction, to change seat due to weight/balance, etc?

              Nevermind, I can envision Type A control freeks asking to review maintenance logs, etc.

              If you need that much control, I suggest flying private.

              I’m constantly behooved how many trust a total stranger with their lives to fly them from point A to B, yet absolutely distrust the same to provide reason for delay, cancellation, rebooking, etc.

              Fascinating! Any Psychology majors out there?

              Think about that!

            2. Since when? Since the origin of the airline because ethics and the responsibility of a business to treat its customers properly are older than the airline.

            3. Seemingly – but not surprising, you’ve missed the point.

              That is, Type A control freeks never ever ask airline to verify/view an unknown pilot’s license, to verify academic credentials; to view his/her flight records, etc, yet when they learn about “delay, cancellation, rebooking,” etc, there is little trust, so proof is demanded.


  14. While I’m not a fan of overbooking and take the stance of Jetblue. I understand why it happens and how it saves an airline money and allows good load factors. That being said this is a crew scheduling issue and I believe (like many others from what I read) that the incentive was just not enough. Honestly in the lost revenue for pr and other effects, they should have kept going in offering more. I’m sure if it would have gotten to the point of 2 domestic first class round trip vouchers, someone would have taken it. I know that’s extreme, but my point is everyone has a price. Aside from this, I truly feel for the gate agents and crew that had to deal with this.

  15. It is an overbooking issue in that the user was “forced” off. If the airlines up the ante until someone accepts freely then there’s no force involved.

  16. Don’t forget that another ‘piece of work’ from United, Charlie Hobart, the United spokesman, who said “we had asked several times, politely,” for the man to give up his seat before force was used. “We had a customer who refused to leave the aircraft,” he said. “We have a number of customers on board that aircraft, and they want to get to their destination on time and safely, and we want to work to get them there. “Since that customer refused to leave the aircraft, we had to call” the police, and they came on board, he said. Unbelievable the attitude. Fire him ASAP.

    1. How cold can one be? “We followed the right procedures,” Hobart (a United spokesperson) told the Associated Press in a phone interview. “That plane had to depart. We wanted to get our customers to their destinations, and when one gentleman refused to get off the aircraft, we had to call the Chicago Police Department.”

      I can not believe some people are trying to defend these actions. This gentleman refused to get off the plane and United had no right to demand he do so. He is a PAYING CUSTOMER, HE BOARDED AND TOOK HIS SEAT and deserves to depart on time, like the rest of the customers on that flight. I will never fly with this company out of fear that I might pay an extortionate amount of money for a flight, just to be told I need to get off the plane so their employees can make it to a job. Newsflash: other people have jobs they have to get to besides your employees. Unbelievable.

      1. “United had no right to demand he do so”. Well, actually, United does have a right to do so. I think the issue is how this happened, not that it did happen. As Cranky’s article suggests, involuntary denied boardings do occur, whether we agree with them or not. And, as angry as many are right now about this, I would venture to say that people will fly United (they’re flying them today) if/when the fare meets one’s expectations. People can’t drive to Honolulu or aren’t willing to drive 18 hours for a weekend trip to the beach.

        1. That a very sad statement against society. “Well, actually, United does have a right to do so.”

          Well, actually, they shouldn’t. It should be illegal. Laws are created to ensure those who would do harm to others in order to increase their position / wealth, which is exactly what United did here, and that the four major airlines in the US to 46,000 times a year: Remove a seated passenger in order to accommodate themselves.

          People can claim “It was for the greater good of the other passengers on that plane the next day!” and “But it was for safety so the pilots wouldn’t be tired!” But consider this: If the airline didn’t have that option (removing a passenger already seated in the plane) because there was a law against it, what would they have done instead? Whatever option you just came up with is what they should have done in this situation.

          You are right about one thing: United forcibly removed that passenger from the middle seat of that already boarded airplane… because they have the right to do so.

        2. I suspect the upcoming lawsuit will examine whether or not the airline had the right to bump this passenger. The right to bump is not unlimited. There are rules. For example, the bumpee has to be given certain information in writing. Did he get that? If not, they breached the rules…violently. Break rules violently? Expect courts to crush the rule breaker.

  17. Arguing about whether or not this should be talked about as an overbooking issue is silly. The average traveler doesn’t care about the difference between a denied boarding due to overbooking vs a denied boarding due to operational issues.

    What’s important here is that either United or Republic created a situation where there were more people on the flight than there were seats, and their handling of this was completely incompetent. The proper solution was to continue offering more money until they reached the point where it was worth it to people to give up their seat. Supposedly the next flight was the next afternoon, so it’s no wonder that $800 wasn’t enough compensation for people who wanted to get home to their family or be home in time to get to work the next day.

    Further, United’s response after this went viral made the situation even worse for them, because it showed them as being completely tone deaf about what people care about. Sure, they might have had the LEGAL RIGHT to do what they did, but that doesn’t mean what they did was right, and that’s why this story has legs.

    1. Touché! United hasn’t learned the very basic truism when it comes to Public Relations and social skills. Even if you’re “right”, you’re still “wrong” if the result is animosity, grief, or bruised egos. Try being the one person in a group of guys sitting in a bar telling stories about the size of the fish that one guy caught. It’s the one who calls BS that will be socially exiled and ostracized, not the ones telling the fictitious stories. Same logic applies here. Facts only matter in the courtroom. Everywhere else, it’s perception that matters most, not who is factually or legally “in the right”.

    1. I will bet that Cranky will support the 4 Republic employees who had to fly to Louisville over paying pax.

    2. “Serves them right?” Wow, what a stupid thing to write. They were working crewmembers who had nothing to do with this! They don’t control the gate agent’s actions or the law enforcement response. They were on the plane so that they could get to their jobs. That’s all. Would you appreciate being jeered during your morning commute, for absolutely no reason? What a callus response by you.

      1. Catherine, why are these 4 Republic employees more important than paying passengers who have to be in Louisville? If someone could have postponed their lives for a day they would have taken United up on their offer(s).

        1. Well, without pilots or flight attendants, there is no future flight, so these crewmembers are important passengers, especially to those 300+ passengers who are flying on the flight they are travelling to work. Even though their employer didn’t pay a price for their tickets, those four seats were probably the most expensive ones on the airplane. And whether you agree with the concept of deadheading crewmembers, airlines position their crews in this manner all the time, and the operation continues to, well, operate.

          1. 330+ passengers on the flight they’re protecting? Since when has UA been flying wide-bodies out of SDF?

            1. @ catherine burnett — LOL, Actually REPUBLIC, to Tokyo I guess ??(eye roll).

        2. Did you no read that they were on their way to SDF to work a different flight? Had they not been, it subsequently would have cancelled another flight. Lord knows how many would be affected by that..

          1. Kyle, So when a doctor says he has to see patients in the morning is ignored that is OK? According to what has been written the crew was not going out until the following afternoon.

            1. It does not matter that he is a doctor. This United passenger/customer (never again, perhaps) is a human. United and the police never should treat a human that way, regardless of the work he chooses to do.

            2. So I have an important business meeting. Someone else has to write an exam. A firefighter has to save lives or put out fires. A teacher has to teach classes.

              Get it?

              Everyone has a reason for not being the one left behind. Unfortunately the laws of physics and the FAA doesn’t allow 54 people to be squeezed into 50 seats, so someone will have to be left behind and “take one for the team.” Usually money is used to let people self-select.

            3. Well said! But you forgot the most important point: Federal law should ensure that the 50 people **already on the plane** cannot be removed to accommodate 4 different people, because, as you said, we all have valid and important reasons to not be left behind.

              If you want self-selection to succeed 100% of the time, then don’t give the airlines the “out” of physically removing people from the plane. Their options will suddenly become crystal clear: Offer more $$. If they don’t like it, then hire more pilots/crew so they don’t keep coming up short, and/or reduce the level of overbooking/overselling. Capitalism works, except when the rules are rigged to favor one side or the other. **cough** United **cough**

          2. Lord knows there were at least 11 other airplanes traveling to SDF that night from that same airport! United offered to put those four passengers on those other flights… they couldn’t put those DH’s on them instead? And how did the airline find itself in a situation where it didn’t have fresh pilots for that flight the next morning? Oh, yes, check the news about a year ago and see the slew of pilot layoffs they performed in order to increase their profits.

            United had options. They chose poorly. Don’t make this about the other flight – this was about United making a series of informed and calculated bets that they ultimately lost. But instead of sucking it up and accepting the loss, they pulled out the ace up their sleeve: We can just pull these four already seated, already paid customers out an put our employees in those seats instead.

            Hire some more pilots. Increase rewards for passengers that voluntarily give up their seats. Have a charter plane available to fly DH crew when no seats are available. Hire some more pilots. And finally, at the end of the day, this could have been avoided had they hired more pilots.

            1. Have a charter plane available for deadheaders if no seats are available? When hell freezes over would be the availability on that concept with the airlines. Never an option. Maybe an occasional taxi between two airports in close proximity but NEVER a chartered air service.

              Deadheading is usually proactively planned. Something happened here to cause the no notice “must fly” situation and it would be interesting to know if they could have put them on another flight. Someone dropped the ball BIG TIME. It was Republic Pilots and a Republic RJ with UAL gate agents BTW. Not sure if UAL or Republic’s SOC was calling the shots as well. Lots of unanswered questions to a airline puke like me.

            2. Say what!

              Just because “no notice “must fly” situation” may have occurred, that does not mean “Someone dropped the ball BIG TIME.”

              Disruptions and “no notice” changes occur hourly, and perhaps more often than that at large carriers – and aIrlines have “standby/reserve” personnel at bases to react to projected and unforeseen human/weather/equipment, etc, events.

              So, seems to me, a “no notice “must fly” situation” means an unexpected event took place and immediate deadheading of personnel was required – period!

              But then again, any “airline puke” should know this. Hmmm!

            3. In my 18 years as a pilot at the airline, I’ve never been or seen a deadhead bump a revenue passenger after they’ve boarded. So it’s my speculation that someone dropped the ball or didn’t think outside the box enough.

              Have a fabulous day! Aloha!

            4. “18 years as a pilot…” I seriously doubt that, seriously!

              If crew of 4; “must rides” show up at gate last minute, that means an unforeseen event took place – that if crew did not make the flight, hundreds if not thousands of passengers on other flights may have been/would be adversely affected.

              Perhaps it is very very rare occasion “a deadhead bump a revenue passenger after they’ve boarded,” and quite an annoying/disruptive experience for passenger(s) sacrificed, I’m certain.

              But when, and if it does occur, seems to me a seasoned pilot/airline employee would INSTANTLY understand/know that an “unexpected event took place and immediate deadheading of personnel was required – period!”

              It’s your continued use of “dropped the ball” that is
              HIGHLY suspicious. I DON”T buying your claim!

            5. Ha ha ha yo, Actually 18 years as an airline pilot, not just a pilot. It took years of getting licenses and ratings and then flight instructing for a few years, then flying corporate/med evac before I had the experience and hours to fly for a regional airline. Was at the regional for 4 years before my present airline job for 14 years flying the A320 family. Don’t insult me please. And Newsflash: Women are airline pilots! And yes, someone most likely dropped the ball, like crew sked not booking them on that flight when it was on the flight crew’s schedule. Two separate applications that don’t talk at my airline. And then perhaps the crew was late into ORD and had a tight connection for their DH to SDF and didn’t get to the gate until after it was boarded without tickets/seats due to no reservation ever entered. Surprise!!! I’ve had that happen but it happened way before boarding. Why is it so hard to believe that someone dropped the ball or it was a broken process? Airlines are so understaffed that processes break down occasionally. Amazing how smoothly things actually do go on a day to day basis given the complexity of all the interworking roles/responsibilities/processes.

              Don’t know why you are splitting hairs and above all insulting me. So, go take your X-plane app and pretend to know how the business works.

            6. “… someone most likely dropped the ball, like crew sked not booking them on that flight when it was on the flight crew’s schedule.”

              Absolutely not! A normal procedure would have caught and corrected this scenario approx 24 hours before departure – something any airline crew (pilot or flight attendant) knows and would not have uttered.

              No! I will not tell you what it is – so, dream on, and nice try.

              Auf wiedersehen

            7. You are just enjoying jerking my chain. It does happen at my airline so that’s the facts Jack.

              Have a fabulous day! Aloha!

            8. Yo, no need to insult airline crew. They’ve experienced this first hand. You sit behind a keyboard…unless you happen to work for crew scheduling or flight planning, don’t be a d*ck.

        3. Do you seriously believe these employees had a choice? No, they did what they were told to do by their supervisors. Unbelievable!

      2. I will admit up front I don’t understand…. why didn’t the airline have booked seats way ahead of time for the four airline employees??

        1. Sunny – We don’t know the answer to that yet. There are plenty of reasons for a crew to need to be called out at the last minute, so either that happened out of necessity or Republic dropped the ball somewhere along the way.

        2. The must-ride crew was probably a replacement for another crew that couldn’t get to SDF due to cancellation of an upline trip. Or, a crew already in or en route to SDF might have been illegal due to not enough crew rest overnight.

          1. Solution: Hire more crew. Barebones staffing is a major factor in the sharp increase in “must fly” crew members bumping paying customers.

    3. The only think I can say as an airline pilot myself, is that I’m told to fly from here to there and that includes deadheading. So, dumping on that deadheading crew isn’t fair whatsoever!!!! However, with that said, there was a jumpseat that was available and that should have been taken by one of the pilots and reduced the number of cabin seats to 3. I do have that option as a pilot and I would have volunteered gladly to sit in that stiff hard seat for the short flight to Louisville. The late need for those seats for a deadhead crew after boarding is not a common issue so facts remain to be revealed.

    4. It wasn’t the crews fault. They were to told by the company to get on the plane. If you refuse your company’s orders you would be fired at your job. Booing them was also rude!

  18. thanks for dealing with the issue.
    A couple additional notes.

    First, there simply were/are no videos of Delta passengers being physically assaulted as a part of the weather event… the United issue isn’t even close to being in the same camp. The impact to UA will likely be very severe. As bad as DL’s operation was, weather happens and people clearly understand the difference between an Act of God – even if the aftermath and cleanup was not handled well – than from seeing a person who already boarded a plane being dragged from a plane.

    Second, Mr. Muñoz’ employee statement about the situation is simply gut-wrenching in the level of hostility that exists between UA and its passengers and mirrors the Twitter argument between UA PR and customers and observers about the non-rev legging issue.

    Third, KevinAAlexander confirms what most of us wondered that UA regional carrier passenger ground handling at ORD is done by United employees which makes it impossible to try to pawn this problem off on Republic or anyone else. The police showed up because they were called by United.

    Fourth, the City of Chicago, already one of the most violent in the US, could very well not only share a very large settlement with the passenger but also face civil rights charges. As bad as United handled the event, the police engaged in an operation that involved a passenger breaking no laws but rather a business dispute about a legal contract.

    Fifth, UA has been bloodied by its own passenger handling but this hits it right in its heart – in its hometown where it is desperately trying to vie for dominance with American and in Asia where AA and DL are both mounting significant assaults on UA’s dominance in the region, esp. in China. The video of the incident, regardless of how right UA might have been WRT its CoC, is one of the highest trending topics around the world including in China. I can’t think of a single corporate PR meltdown that has had larger global impact to a company’s reputation.

    Sixth, JBLU is actually ranked as the 2nd worst airline by DOT data for involuntary oversales because they very likely do equipment downgrades.

    Seventh, from the same DOT report, Delta has the highest number of voluntary overbookings in the industry but one of the lowest rates of involuntary denied boarding. here is one explanation

  19. We didnt see the whole film, but good cops could have ( most likely) de-esclated that situation.

    “Sir, I understand that you need to get home. This whole thing sucks, but I have a job to do. You can get off the plane, or we will remove you. If we remove you, you ate going to jail. Sir, would you like to get off the plane now?”

    This is de-esclation 101. Not, hey, fuck you get off, ok we will drag you. It never should have gotten physical.

    Or maybe the dude should have just given the cops aPepsi.

    1. Dear Pepsi,
      Here at the Chicago PD, we’ve revised our training procedures. What do you think?
      Ha ha! Good one, Jeremy!

    2. They could have simply been honest: “Sir (and fellow passengers that are overhearing this), the airline that contracts with us has informed us we need to remove you from your seat because two years ago they laid off 25% of their pilots and never hired them back, so now they are operating with a skeleton pool of pilots and crew. For the safety of everyone involved, and because this airline doesn’t have anyone else in the entire United states that can fly the plane tomorrow afternoon, we must insist that you submit to our demands and give your seat to these crew members so the company can continue to operate in this highly unpredictable manner.”

      Or they could have just dragged his butt off the plan, forcefully and been done with it.

      Oh, wait…

  20. I think that a big part of the issue was that they weren’t able to get volunteers out until the next day at 3pm. Volunteering and leaving the next Morning and the next day at 3pm are two very different things–Especially Sunday night. I’m sure that the Monday morning flights were full. They might have more luck with volunteers if they push volunteers on to overbooked flights and hope to get volunteers then when they aren’t overnight. Of course this is potentially more expensive. Anecdotally I’ve seen United less willing to do this post-merger. I get why they don’t want to do that.
    In general United is too stingy with the volunteer compensation. They’ve probably made the decision to take the IDB hit rather than be more generous as this is the cheaper approach. Well this is the fruits of that approach. They need more empowered employees to straighten things out when things go bad: More problem-solving and de–escalation training.
    Oh and when a police officer in an airport tells you to do something. You have two choices: leave the airport or do what you’re told. Right or wrong. Do what you’re told. You “check your rights” at the curb when you check your bag. This is pretty simple.

    1. One other thing that I’ve read is that there were other flights the same day on other airlines (southwest in particular), but that the airlines will no longer accommodate people by booking on other airlines the way they used to. This seems to be part of the problem as well. Imagine how much easier this would have been if they had been able to offer people flights out later the same day, even if on a competitor?

      1. Southwest doesn’t have agreements with other airlines, Read the cranky post about DL & AA. I do believe AA & UA still have an agreement.

        1. Agreement? You don’t need an agreement to call AA and buy a ticket. Folks are stuck in this mindset that the United is the victim here. They CHOSE to do what they did; no one forced them to move that crew on that plane. United CHOSE to do that instead of putting their crew on some other flight (one of the 11 other airplanes that were going to that same destination) in the exact same way they were going to “reaccomodate” those 4 passengers.

          United holds all the cards and makes all the decisions. Don’t pretend for a minute they are somehow victims in all of this.

          1. actually, federal law did. FAA says that the crew needed to travel to avoid a series of cancellations and delays the next day.

      2. Southwest in particular would have been tricky because the passengers would have to get from ORD to MDW. So American would be preferable, but a cab to Midway on United’s dime would still likely be preferable to most people than waiting until the next day.

        1. Which is where United should have put those crew members in the first place. Not standing at the gate awaiting the results of the lottery to see which paying, already seated customer’s seat they would be allocated. I feel bad for the crew to have to be the “face” of United CEO’s ‘customer last’ mindset.

    2. While not relevant to this situation, you don’t check your Constitutional Rights at the curb. We live in America, not Russia, China, Syria, Turkey, Argentina, or take your pick.

      1. Actually, you leave your rights (Constitutional or otherwise) when you step into the plane. United had the legal right to drag that guy off the plane, even in a way that hurt him, because the law actively permits it.

        Listen closely the next time those nice people in those mild uniforms say the phrase: “Federal requires all passengers to follow all crew member instructions.” In this case, the instruction from the crew member was: “Sir, you need to get out of your seat and leave the plane.” When he refused to follow that crew member instruction, United simply marked him has “Defiant” and the gloves came off. United did nothing wrong in the eyes of the law.

  21. Hi Brett,

    Thanks for writing this column so quickly. I immediately wondered what your take would be when I heard about the incident. The tv news story I watched on the CBS affiliate in Seattle correctly identified this situation as a flight crew operational issue rather than a standard overbooking issue. The included an interview with an aviation legal expert who reinforces that distinction.

    There are many culprits to blame here before overbooking. The Chicago Aviation Police top my list, followed closely by Republic’s gate personnel. The airline personnel could easily have gone down to the next person on the list if the passenger steadfastly refused to give up his seat. Calling in the police should be reserved for security situations initiated by the passenger. The airline created this situation, the passenger reacted to it.

    My third culprit is the co-branding of mainline carriers with regional independent carriers. United’s brand is tarnished because of its reliance on a regional partner. Regional carriers have so many issues that seem to drag down the brand experience and image of the mainline partner. Sure, there’s the fine print that the flight is operated by the regional carrier, but putting your brand on the plane and flight makes you own its experience without being able to control it. Alaska at least owns Horizon so it has more at stake and more leverage to ensure consistency of passenger experience. Delta used to own Com Air, but now it is as disconnected as United and American from its regional partners. Even Alaska that owns Horizon now contracts with SkyWest to operate an increasing number of its flights. The fact that the Battle for Seattle between Delta and Alaska is often fought on SkyWest-operated flights for both carriers seems absurd.

    The news report I heard is that “United” backed the airline’s personnel. Was that mainline United or United Express Republic? Who is responsible?

    When there is lack of clarity as to who owns responsibility for a flight, bad things seem to happen more often and are more difficult to correct. What are your thoughts on the reliance of mainline carriers on regional airlines and co-branding with them?

    1. Let’s look at this from a different angle. Involuntary denied boarding happens, I’m sure it has happened before on the aircraft where passengers have had to have been DB. So the question is how many of them have been taken off the aircraft using force. As this is the first case to come to light and 75% of the other IDB on that flight got off with no issues. So the remaining factor is the guy who didn’t follow instructions that he wasn’t departing on the flight, however unfair it was.

      1. “So the remaining factor is the guy who didn’t follow instructions that he wasn’t departing on the flight,” No, let’s not shift blame here. The guy never should have received those instructions to get off the plane after he boarded. This incident is all on United–the airline’s incompetence and inability to treat customers with respect and failure to put people before profits–with an ugly assist from the Chicago police.

      1. Thanks for that clarification, Oliver. That’s actually a good thing from a brand consistency perspective.

  22. Ditto Catherine. Those four crew members were not at fault. They did what they were told to do,and are in no way personally responsible! Jeering at them is ignorant to say the least.

    1. Something that I am wondering about and maybe Catherine can answer (I am thinking that she is an airline professional?); would it have been possible if one of the 4 to sit in the cockpit and one of the others (if they are a FA) sit with the working FA’s?

      1. Wild Bill, I’m not sure what the Republic collective bargaining agreements (pilot and flight attendant) stipulate, but *in theory*, yes, if jumpseats were available in the cockpit and in the cabin (I’m not sure what type of aircraft this way, and how many extra jumpseats it had), this might have been an option for authorized crewmembers’ deadhead travel.

        1. Catherine I am lame so I don’t know…why didn’t Republic have seats purchased/blocked on this flight?

  23. CF – I disagree with “We can talk about whether this could have been handled better or not, but it doesn’t matter”. I think it does matter. Now, that you did not want to discuss here is another matter and in my opinion would have been more clear and not distract from your point.

    Finally, imo, you have much factual points but it comes across very coldly.

  24. Hi Cranky,

    I respectfully disagree. While your numbers are worth knowing, such treatment of passengers is disgraceful and the United CEO should not be defending it. Even though picking random passengers for deplaning works most of the time, when it doesn’t it is a nuclear bomb. I think there will be serious fallout. If it fades in the short term, it will still be part of the rationale for more drastic reaction from the public, and by proxy, the politicians, in the long run.

    When and if the post-mortem of this event becomes public, the actions of the ground agents, their supervisors, the flight and cabin crew, and the local police will likely show a lot of finger pointing and falling back on profit maximizing policies. What is missing in the airline business today is common sense and good judgement exercised by the airline people at the point of the action. Too many airline managements have removed the employee’s sense of judgement and responsibility for the details of daily operation.

    United needs to reevaluate their whole rationale for handling these types of situations. Other airlines should play this video in recurrent training for ground and flight crews as an example of what not to do. Flexibility all through the operation has to be a value. No, the deadhead crew isn’t always the priority, even if cancelling or delaying them has downstream consequences. The captain and A flight attendant need to be able to exercise their safety authority even when the airplane is on the gate. Never let a situation get out of hand.

    This is a people business. Safety first, people second, money third.

    1. It shouldn’t have been a random process, either the airline employees were wrong (again!) when they said this, or it’s been misinterpreted and re-reported. If it was a random process, then that’s yet another problem, since per the United Contract of Carriage, Involuntary Denied Boarding selection is based on fare paid, Mileage Plus status, check in time, and possibly other factors.

  25. Proper approach would have been to continue to increase the financial incentive until it was high enough to achieve the needed number of people giving up seats, not to call the police. United screwed up big time. United deserves every video and every tweet of condemnation it gets here. Doesn’t matter now whether this incident was due to overbooking or to a need for moving crew members. The distinction is irrelevant to what happened.

  26. Brett – you’re the only one that I know that’s likely to have any real knowledge of this, but is there any reason that Republic didn’t just get the crew to rent a car? It’s not like the crew had to cross an ocean to get from Chicago to Louisville – it’s a 5 hour drive, maybe. Even if duty hours may have been a factor, it’d seem that a 1 hour flight, plus 2 hours of delays, would put them in the same range time-wise as just driving (particularly if they’d figured this out early and had just gone to the airport car rental place, rather than figuring this out at the gate.)

    The only thing I can think of is that there’s something in the contract with the union, but that almost sounds like a crazy provision to have.

  27. It’s pretty clear that one of UA’s problems here is that everyone thinks they are an “expert” about aviation even if they take a couple of flights a year. They immediately think UA is evil because they see a video of a guy being dragged off a plane.
    I think people in the airline industry have to understand and appreciate this reality. Optics can matter more than facts. Here, the two people most to blame for this incident are the individual who didn’t listen to the police officer, and the police officer who seems to have used excessive force to remove the passenger.
    Obviously, in hindsight, UA could have done a better job at the gate. We don’t know all the facts, but it would obviously have been better to have this problem resolved before all the passengers were on the plane. But that was a garden variety gate agent “mistake.”
    I suspect the fallout of this incident will be a discussion about raising IDB compensation, with the hope that it raises voluntary compensation, and avoids this type of incident. But there are always unintended consequences. If UA would have been required to “up the ante” here, it might be incentivized to just cancel a flight, which is probably a worse outcome for the flying public.

    1. You are right in the legal sense but morally United has an obligation here, they are the ultimate authority when it comes to the policy these personnel relied upon and if they had good polices, this would have been impossible.

    2. “iahphx” I disagree because the “reality” you speak of was shaped and forged SOLELY by United. No passengers made the decision to lay off 25% of their pilots over the past 7 years to increase profit margins, leaving them with a skeleton crew pool from which to chose to fill their flights. No one forced United to tweak the very reasonable overselling/overbooking practice so far that it has become a liability instead of an asset. United’s choices are their own. Don’t blame a customer for refusing to be forcefully removed when that forceful removal shouldn’t have ever happened in the first place.

      “Well, if you don’t want to inconvenience 180 other passengers because of a canceled flight tomorrow, then you’ll give up your seat, right?

      “Well, if don’t have anything illegal in your car, then you shouldn’t have a problem with us searching it, right?”

  28. Whether it was an overbooking or operational issue is irrelevant. But what is the problem is that the passenger did not have a right to remain on the plane once he was told to exit. While the CPD aviation folks probably didn’t handle it so great, they also can not be expected to walk away. The passenger, whether he was a doctor or not, was told to leave. He defied the airline rep orders. Technically at that point was trespassing after warning. The CPD aviation folks were called and he wouldn’t budge for them. Disobeying authority figures is not an option. Argue it out at the podium. Not in your seat. It’s like getting a ticket…you may not think the cop is right but arguing with him on the side of the road is not going to get you anywhere. For those of you who say the crew should have driven…well that’s a nice thought too…but their union says they don’t have to. If you know anything at all about aviation, you know the contracts spell out exactly what can or can’t be done. This passenger escalated it. The airline was within their right, even if you have to pinch your nose to say that.

    1. The passenger didn’t have a right to remain on the flight by United’s conditions of carriage which are not law.
      United can be completely right based on its own internal rules and completely be wrong in the eyes of the public because UA’s internal rules are completely inconsistent with what people around the world understand as the norms of public transportation and civilized. People do not understand how UA can board a flight and then decide they need people off of it. A Chicago Alderman says it should have been handled in the gatehouse which most of us can agree with. The same alderman said that United should have dealt with the issue without the aid of City of Chicago (aviation) personnel. The average global citizen will never understand how an airline can pull a passenger off of a flight which they paid for esp. when the passenger is bloodied as the scene was immediately uploaded to social media. The fact that the “overbooking” was actually because United or one of its regional affiliates had to use the seats which paying passengers bought is the icing on the cake of how badly perceived this situation is regardless of whatever rules are on paper.

      1. Yep that’s true too. There once was a world where we watched a whole report. Not 30 seconds of video coupled with 140 characters and a ton of hastags.

    2. You nailed it. When a cop lawfully tells you to do something, you need to do it. Whether it’s “keep your hands in plain sight” or “get off the plane,” you can argue about it later.

      1. If the passenger wasn’t willing to get off, what was security to do, wait there while the passenger had his tantrum and gave in. Or was he hoping that they would turn on someone else, but then all the other passengers would have to do would be to do the same. IDB was not fair but at the end of the day it would have served the greater good in that the deadheading crew could have got to transport their passengers.
        A doctor’s cry of I have to get to my patients, do doctors not have sick days, do they not call in sick when really they are off to a golf game – in that case then they are very honorable, though contradicting what is coming out in the press today.
        Also can’t the doctor rebook his patients or is he overbooked….LOL

        1. I think we¹re getting distracted. This wasn¹t a legal problem. It was a customer service problem. UA no doubt had the RIGHT to take the passenger off the aircraft. The issue is the customer service and public relations disaster they caused by enforcing their rights with force. I¹m confident that the cost of the fallout will far exceed the cost they would have incurred to buy someone a first class ticket on another airline and take them from airport to home in a limousine.

          On an organizational level, most airlines, including UA, focus their terminal operations entirely on cost. Station Managers don¹t have much if any latitude to spend extra money to resolve difficult customer service problems. They can do things that don¹t incur additional costs, but they mostly can¹t spend extra money. If that was true here, it probably influenced the decisions they made. Those decisions cratered their customer service, knocked (at last report) about 5% off their stock price, and may well have cost them several million dollars in lost business.

      2. That still does not give the right to the cop to assault the passenger. Especially, when the passenger was not breaking any law. If he was, please tell me which law he broke.

      3. Correct. However, it’s likely that the law suit will hinge on the word “lawful”. If United missed one teensy itty bitty step in the process, and it becomes “unlawful”, reasonable force quickly becomes assault. United did hand him a written copy of his options, didn’t they? Wouldn’t have wanted to miss a step like that, would they?

    3. From what I heard from an aviation legal expert interviewed last night on Seattle’s CBS affiliate, the airline would have been within its legal rights to call Security to deplane the passenger for an overbooking situation, but it’s far less clear they had that right to deplane him to seat deadheading crew.

      Sent from Mail for Windows 10

      1. He might be right to some degree. But that is an argument for off the plane. But if the Captain who has final decision says to exit the plane (I haven’t see if that’s the case here) tells you to leave, you leave. Again, it’s all an argument at the podium. Not on the plane. The situation is not going to get any better arguing on the aircraft.

    4. Scott, taking your point to it’s logical conclusion you sound like you support the policy of, “Get off our plane or get beat up.”

      The cop that pulls you over for a moving violation doesn’t get the right to beat you up because you argue with them about the ticket while sitting in your car. Your analysis seems to ignore the implications and the idea of appropriate response.

      *United’s policy should be to avoid beating up passengers (or having cops do it)*

      Unless you’re saying there was NO other reasonable alternative to bumping this specific passenger?

    5. Well put! By most comments, I’m ammaazzed at total lack of knowledge about airline protocols and rules for deadhead crew, et al.

  29. Your long post defending or clarifying overbooking doesn’t matter.

    The human factor and handling is the HOW of this issue while you on about the WHAT. The cops did a horrible job, and how they beat up this man is so authoritarian that I ask myself what is happening to our world. How you handle a problem is often more important than the problem itself. Were there any more on the random list that could be asked to leave?

  30. The Customer doesn’t always come first, but they should. I understand the need to position the crew, and assume the crew was deadheading to work a flight and not positive space discretionary leisure travel. Was this the last flight of the day on any airline? Was this a Republic or Mainline UA crew? Could they have chartered a plane to move the crew? Most likely yes, but would they justify the cost? It would be a bargain compared to this PR fiasco. Are the lawyers lined up yet?

  31. This whole episode is depressing; United’s behaviour, the passenger’s behaviour, and especially the Police (if you have to resort to aggression and violence, then you’ve already lost). But most depressing of all is the huge numbers of people making judgements from a single, Tweeted video – that’s why you have who you do on Pennsylvania Avenue, that’s why we have Brexit, that’s why integrity and respect are worthless these days. What’s the word for it, these days? Oh, yeah, #Sad.

    1. “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” – Albert Einstein. He probably didn’t imagine that it would be started with a 140 character Tweet.

  32. 1) It seems like the Republic crew showed up to the gate late and then demanded they need to be on the flight. If they got there prior to boarding, they could have resolved this prior to boarding. That seems like poor planning.
    2) I’m glad to have seen that the officer who beat up this passenger has been suspended. This incident really wouldn’t have gone viral without that video. I think it was on the front page of every major news website.
    3) I’ve only seen one flight in my life get close to being IDB after boarding and it was PWM – JFK on DL (Comair) when they flew that route. Once DL offered $800 to go to LGA a few hours later (on a US regional), someone took them up on the offer. Problem solved. It seems like DL does a really good job of offering enough of an incentive to VDB.

    1. Do you know why the crew showed up late to the gate? hmmmm could it be that their inbound was late? I hope the officer does not lose his job. He did not throw a punch. The customer was fighting him. If he would have left the airplane as directed, none of this would have happened. Including his horrible history as a Doctor. Drugs for sex, 98 other drug counts, hmmm.. Stand up guy. If we are going to speculate on what led up to this incident, maybe we can speculate that this Doctor was on drugs and that is why he is freaking out!

      1. The drug angle seems to be an under-considered factor here. Why did the “good” doctor resist the police? It’s not something that 69-year-olds typically do. And then we see his “spaced out” behavior after he apparently got free of the police. This obviously isn’t normal. The doctor also had a history of belligerence in his medical files. It would not be surprising if one of the reasons he got hurt in the incident with the police was his own mental state.

      2. No, we don’t need to speculate on which drugs this customer was or was not using. Drugs are irrelevant unless you’re just grasping at straws in your shameful efforts to defend the actions of United and the Chicago police. The man’s behavior was normal human response to the attack upon him.

    2. I have been on two flights just this last year where people had to be taken off after boarding. Weight and balance makes that a fairly common problem with Barbie jets.

      1. Even if the crew was on a late inbound, someone who does scheduling for Republic should have notified the gate that they were going to make room for four crew members. If this was done at the last second, that’s poor planning.

        Digging into a person’s past to say that he deserved being dragged off the plane is really low. The neanderthal airport security folks didn’t know that. Republic didn’t know that. United didn’t know that.

        I’ve seen VDB after boarding for weight/balance reasons on barbie jets. It’s fairly common.

        1. Southbay — Digging into his past is obviously relevant to see if there are reasons this incident happened the way it happened, and to see how culpable the doctor was in his own predicament. The history of drug felonies and belligerence seem very relevant to me.

  33. A “must ride” employee on compamny business is just that. This is nothing new. I was an airport gate agent 35 years ago. Nothing has changed, except service levels, incident management techniques, and a lack of common sense!

  34. Please retract this POS factually incorrect article.

    The stats you push are for INVOLUNTARY denied boardings. Airlines bump hundreds times as many poor passengers, but have gotten better to make it look like the “voluntarily” gave up their seat.

    The reality is that I know of no other industry where a contract is worthless. As this hero showed us, the airline can break the contract at their will and even call the cops to make sure you don’t get what you paid for. 100% the issue here. Airlines CEOs should go to jail for this.

    1. Tell that to the lady who collected $11,000 in VDB compensation from DL for her, her husband, and child this past weekend.

      1. “Exactly how, when and where are all up to the airline’s discretion.” Not quite. The outrage over being locked on a plane on the tarmac changed the laws and regulations. The airline does not have unlimited discretion and if Airlines abuse the discretion they do have the public can encourage their Representatives to change the regs.

  35. United Airlines has self inflicted another body blow. Millions lost in market value, terrible brand damage…it doesn’t matter that Polaris is the new star in their hard product offering (which is over promised and under delivered), they are failing in brand behavior. United breaks guitars should have been an example for change, but alas, no. Their management continues to be inept at creating a customer focused culture. Until they get it, their future is grim!

  36. Cranky,

    I want to give you kudos because this is the first place I have seen the actual airline running the flight mentioned. And this also goes back to what you have said about how flyers don’t actually know who is running their flight 99% of the time if its a regional carrier.

  37. Every time I’ve seen airlines make offers for people to take a later flight in response to overbooking it’s been before the plane boarded. I’ve never encountered this after the plane was boarded, that part of the situation is completely nuts, and is the airline’s fault. The only thing I’d agree with is that it’s not strictly an issue of overbooking, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t some other form of gross operational stupidity.

    1. It’s rarer but does occur. I had a VDB a few years after I sand everyone else was seated a few years ago. I got 500 buck voucher, food coupons for O’Hare, and bumped from coach on a regional to first in mainline to a nearby airport. Sure it cost me a little extra to get home from this other airport, but well worth it to me.

    2. As mentioned upstream, I have seen it happen twice in the last 12 months alone. Not because of crew having to fly or oversold seats, but because of weight and balance. End result was the same: GA comes on board and offers carrots and threatens with stick if not sufficient volunteers (incl. security in one case… on an AA branded regional carrier, BTW).

  38. The really looks bad for United. It should have never come to the point where a passenger is already on a plane and is asked to leave, with the exception of weight balancing.

    But with four passengers each being offered $800 plus hotel/meals, it would seem that United could have found an Uber or some service to drive them down to Louisville. It would certainly have been cheaper and the two cities are not that far apart. And those passengers would have been home that day.

    1. The only time I’ve encountered a weight-balancing issue was Penn Air, from King Salmon to Anchorage, and they simply moved passengers around within the plane rather than having anyone leave the plane.

    2. Heck, you could have taken that $800 voucher and then rented a car one way to SDF and still come out ahead. You would still be home that night, though late that night.

      1. if the voucher was actually cash, then perhaps. If it was United vouchers, then it was worthless as far as any other transportation options.
        The value of the hotel and meals is meaningless to the equation because the passenger never wanted them in the first place. The only compensation that has value to the customer is actual denied boarding compensation and then only if it is in a form that the customer considers acceptable.
        Everything else – hotels and food – were consequential expenses from the denied boarding situation that airlines offer to try to placate the inconvenience.

        Also, I do not believe (CF can confirm) that airlines will not use private cars as backup for service irregularities because of the liability that is involved. Public carriage via a bus or taxi is one thing (I presume Uber etc fall under that category) but airlines will refund your ticket before they will tell you that you can complete the journey in a private car as a substitute for air transportation.

        1. It depends. For me, I would use the voucher within a year. I’ve done that on DL a few times and I walked away happy. In my case, a voucher is as good as cash.

          I do understand that you are responsible for paying for your rental car or alternate transportation, but if the cost is $150 for an $800 voucher, I come out ahead.

        2. Quote “Also, I do not believe (CF can confirm) that airlines will not use private cars as backup for service irregularities because of the liability that is involved”

          I work for a Ground Transportation company in South Florida. We have on many occasions taken an airline’s passengers to Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Key West, Orlando or Tampa because of either a flight cancellation or overbooking. It becomes a liability of the transportation company that accepts the passengers whether it be in a form of a ground transportation voucher or actual cash.

    3. Yes, overbooking makes more money for the airline. But there’s another major reason for doing it. I had a conversation many years ago with an airline senior manager. If somebody got bumped, he could do something for them – get them to their destination and give them compensation. What really bothered him was when somebody was desparate to get on a flight but was told it was fully booked. When the passenger found out later that the flight went out with three open seats, he got very upset and there was nothing my friend could do for him. Too late. So overbooking accommodates more passengers on the flight of their choice. Isn’t that wonderful?

  39. This was already said but it seems to me, United had to know way prior to boarding that crew members needed to be on board and they should not have allowed passengers to board to save room for the crew members that needed to travel. This man was not a criminal and should not have been treated the way he was, United needed to offer more money to get somebody off the plane, and it should have been in cash not some voucher.

    1. something that occurred to me is that none of the other passengers offered to be involuntarily bumped (no pun intended) once the Dr. started to be roughed-up and he could be at his destination as well. I hope I’m not blaming the passengers for United’s and the cop’s terrible acts. I’m simply highlighting what I wished I as a passenger would have done when seeing a fellow human being being roughed up.

      1. My guess is the other passengers were either so shocked or not necessarily aware of why he was being removed. The time to volunteer was before the police arrived. Once they were on the scene, any attempt to volunteer could have been misinterpreted as interference. One of the mistakes I still maintain the airline committed was not going down to the next name on their list (however derived). They should have had a couple of alternates identified in case a passenger refused. If that did not work, then they could have explained they either needed a volunteer or they would have to call Security to involuntarily remove a passenger. Someone might have then volunteered or tried to negotiate a higher voucher to deplane. It would be faster and easier to try to get someone else to go voluntarily than having to call Security.

        1. “passengers were either so shocked…not aware” and ” could have been misinterpreted as interference” by the police. makes some sense. however, I would have still said that I’d volunteer. the rest of your comments is a sensible approach…thanks for sharing

        2. The only problem I see with going down the line is that once one says no and sees there is nothing the company will do, so can everyone else, so stuck in the same situation they began with.

  40. Well written article Brett! Yes, United/Republic screwed up, but this is not overbooking. And they should have offered more $$ and not even seated the pax until they had the seats for the deadheading crew.

    1. agree with you. the external & internal (which went external) was poorly done. imo, it would have been best for Mr. Munoz to take full responsibility.

      I recall one of the first messages to the “troops” when he took over, imo, seemed overly canned by simply and robotically reading the prompter. I wished he would have been more personable.

      1. I read that he’s changed his tune and “we take responsibility”.

        That, imo, should have been part of the initial response by Munoz.

  41. Cranky: I totally agree with your comments. But there is another issue that noone has mentioned so far. Where the four Republic crew members just going from their home to their first duty place? In that case, they used to be responsible for getting there and should have been standing by, like everyone else. Since they could easily have determined the aircraft passenger load, why did they show up in the last minute instead of standing by for an earlier flight? If they actually were on duty (and in uniform, I think they would normally fly positive space. Clearly they were not in uniform but just expected to saunter onto a full airplane. Just another instance, I think, of United being operated for its employees, not customers.

    1. False. They were deadheading crew members. Told by the company that they would deadhead on this flight and work the downline flight out of Louisville. Most likely their inbound was late and they had to put them on this flight or they were drafted at the last minute to deadhead to Louisville work the other flight. Airlines don’t all of a sudden just decide to put their crews on an airplane without a good reason. They certainly don’t like the idea of having to pull customers off of an airplane. It amazes me that you people think they wake up in the morning looking forward to situations such as this.

  42. I think this incident has such resonance because it reminds us forcefully of just how awful United¹s customer service can be. Thousands of fliers have United stories. Mine is being lied to about where my seat was in an equipment change, dropped into an interior seat, and then given the opportunity to watch United put a standby passenger in the aisle seat next to mine. I was outraged about that, and wrote the airline. That was maybe 20 years ago. I¹m still waiting for a response. And no, I still don¹t voluntarily fly United.

    Not that they need to hear it from me, but dragging somebody off of an airplane, bloody and screaming ? and Chinese, no less ? is a catastrophic event. Not that I wish it to happen, but the airline would have been hurt less if the plane had crashed on takeoff. That might have been seen as an Act of God. This is seen as an Act of Unforgivable Stupidity. Is there some reason to believe that it would have been a worse choice to keep raising the ante until somebody took the deal? They were already in for a full refund and free flight. Why not just keep offering more until they had takers? And who decided that the Chicago Thugs Airport Police needed to be called? Where was the G* D*** supervision? If they needed to get crew to the destination and didn¹t have space, how about using a competing airline?
    Or even an air charter? At that point, nobody should care about cost. They were already going to lose a bundle in revenue.

    I know just enough about United to know that they stress their station managers unmercifully. I¹m going to speculate that the angry, demanding, threatening approach extends to their subcontractors. To me, this incident is the almost inevitable outcome of that kind of abuse.

    In a perfect world, something like this would bankrupt the airline and the new owners would clean house. In the world we live in, it probably won¹t even get the Gate Agent fired. Inconsequentially, it will reinforce my commitment to fly Anybody But United.

    1. it’d be interesting to see what effect his has on United’s implementation of bare bone air service (i.e. no seat assignment, no meal). The other legacies are implementing the same but I wonder if United can take more negative situations and social media perceptions.

  43. I for one think the big mistake was letting this person board and then have to “remove” him from the flight. I’m not sure the exact verbiage of the conditions of contract but I bet it says you can be “denied boarding.” This man was boarded and then they reneged on that. I’m sure UA’s lawyers wrote things such they are in the good but it’s perception. Once I cross that threshold from jetway to aircraft I’ve boarded in my opinion….AND public opinion for what it seems.

    In hindsight UA would’ve been better off to cancel the flight out of SDF. I get that overbooking isn’t the issue at it’s core but the fact remains that this is a very confusing aspect of air travel to most people. I wouldn’t tell my clients that someone else came along who is “more important” so I am going to “bump” their project delivery to a later date and for the “inconvenience” here’s a credit towards the next job I do for you. That would be absurd to say and I’d never see that client again, rightfully so. As usual, terrible PR on the airlines part explaining reality such as Cranky did above.

    1. interesting point you raise about “I wouldn’t tell my clients that someone else came along who is “more important” so I am going to “bump” their project delivery to a later date and for the “inconvenience” here’s a credit towards the next job I do for you.” imo, you may be in the minority as this choice, as with the airlines, corporate America probably does use overtly or covertly. probably the latter.

  44. Now if Kentucky Senator McConnell and his DOT secretary wife had been on that flight, wonder how UA/Republic would have handled this. I admit that a year or so ago I actually flew with a hard-copy of UA’s contract of carriage. Was looking for the definition of “Direct flight.” Couldn’t find anything. I was referred to Wikipedia, and something about the flight number being the same through all 6 stops and 5 plane-changes! I trashed my copy of contract of carriage in the “garbage only” receptacle.

  45. If this had happened in the old days prior to people whipping out a cell phone to take a video and post it to social media this would not be a news story. It shows how people can get worked up over something visual that the media keeps replaying over and over to get ratings or hits on there websites.

  46. Although it obviously happens, I have never personally seen a situation where anyone has been involuntarily bumped. I suspect the reason for that is because the compensation offered has been high enough. Hopefully all the airlines will learn two lessons from this incident. Firstly, if people are not happy to get a later flight with the offer made, up the offer. Most flyers are not FF blog readers and will not simply hold out. Secondly, if there needs to be involuntary bumping, take a look at the passengers before you decide who to turf off. I would have thought that a Doctor who says he needs to get back for patient appointments should be one of the last to be bumped, not the first. And yes he may have been stretching the truth or even plain lying, but can’t we get back to the good old days when people were believed until the opposite was proven. My last two overbooked flights were firstly LGA to YYZ when I was in a real hurry and turned down the first, second and third offers. Others did not and the plane left on time. The second was when SWISS had overbooked my night flight from ZRH-TLV, I was more than happy to take EU490, a room in the airport hotel and an upgraded seat on the early flight the next morning! Lots of others were in line for that one! Offer enough and you will find people who will happily walk away!

  47. All this talk about a PR disaster is fine, but how many people will actually not book a flight on United because of this incident?

  48. Lets face it United/Republic screwed up big time. Unfortunately as many have said this will only last until the next big screw up.

    1. We all know that the public will forget soon enough. Still when the stock price took a 5% hit, Munoz changed his tone. Of course, the stock hit also will be temporary and eased a little even before Munoz made his third statement, which included more of a real apology and a commitment to an investigation and review of its IDB procedures. UA might not lose a lot of passengers, but making shareholders and Wall Street nervous did seem to get UA’s immediate attention. Hopefully, all airlines will develop a protocol to avoid risking a repeat of this IDB incident. The report promised by April 30 should be a good place to start.

  49. I don’t care whether or not it was an overbooking issue. Whatever it was they should have handled it BEFORE boarding the aircraft. Their police-state mentality is completely unacceptable. I never much liked United anyway. Now I wouldn’t use them unless I had to go somewhere in an emergency and there were no alternatives.

  50. United’s Contract of Carriage (Rule 1) specifically defines “Oversold Flight” as involving an excess of ticketed “Passengers.” (another defined term). This did NOT qualify as an Oversold Flight under United’s own contract. The Denied Boarding Rule (Rule 25) only applies (again per United’s contract) to Oversold flights. None of the United employees at the airport had the authority to modify these Rules.- per United’s contract.

    In short, United breached its own contract, resulting in a criminal assault of a ticketed passenger without any contractual justification for the procedure it followed.. What United should have done under these circumstances is to keep offering more and more money to passengers to obtain the requisite number of volunteers without regard to the limit stated in the inapplicable Rule 25. These is a price where free market forces would free up the seats needed.. .

  51. Brett:

    You are the last person on the planet I wish to challenge on airline-related matters, but I can’t help take issue with your position that the 10 percent figure of people who are involuntarily bumped every year is meaningless. I’m guessing that some of those 46,000 people were attending time-sensitive events like weddings, funerals, reunions, etc. that no amount of money can replace if a person is forced to miss one of these milestone events. And given that most of these events are planned months in advance, it’s safe to assume that people attending them secured some of the lowest fares, thereby dramatically increasing the odds they would be bumped.

    I’m hoping you will share when the $1,350 cap was first determined, as it seems awfully low given today’s ticket prices, particularly if you fly into a city like Detroit where one airline overwhelmingly dominates the region. At a minimum, airlines should automatically be required to pay bumped passengers 4x the cost of their tickets regardless, unless passengers are willing to be volunteer to accept less in order to guarantee they are chosen to get bumped.

    I’m not certain it’s possible, but you would be doing a great service if you could reveal who are United’s top ten corporate clients. As you astutely noted, United’s PR debacle isn’t going to cost it any lost business because the airline’s customer service already is pretty bad to begin with. I would gladly support a boycott of United’s major corporate clients if they don’t demand that United immediately overhaul its business practices. If some two dozen c advertisers pulled their advertising from The O’Reilly Factor because of the host’s sexual harassment allegations, Corporate America could show some moral leadership in this matter. Sadly, my guess is that many of United’s major corporate clients have customer practices as appalling as the airline.

    1. LA Flyer – I didn’t say they were meaningless. I said they were miniscule and a rounding error in the scheme of things, which is true. Yes it means these people are going to be inconvenienced against their will, but it’s a matter of balancing the other benefits. Is it worth it to have higher fares for everyone while also taking away extra compensation from 500,000 volunteers to ensure that the 40,000+ people who get involuntarily bumped don’t?

      Further, it’s safe to say not all of those are victims of oversold flights anyway. Look at JetBlue, for example, which had over 3,000 involuntary denied boardings last year despite not overbooking. There are people impacted by being bumped involuntarily, but so far, nobody outside of JetBlue has thought it to be a big enough problem to outweigh the benefits.

      That include the Department of Transportation. That $1,350 cap? It went into effect less than 10 years ago. It was far lower before.

      1. imo, you could have been clear that though “they were miniscule” the numbers are not meaningless as obviously there are people behind those numbers.

        anyhow, thanks for providing a forum.

  52. Overbooking is a common practice. But it is widely known amongst those that have the privilege to exercise flight benefits (my husband is an FA) that United overlooks much more aggressively than the other majors. So in that sense, overbooking IS the problem – not the actual practice, but the approach the United uses.

    As for the crew that needed to be deadheaded – United lost revenue from the bumped passengers with non-rev pax. Oh wait, what about that flight in Louisville that needed a crew? Oh wait, what about the ready reserve crews that every airline keeps IN THE AIRPORT for call to service in short notice.

    Sorry, United, you screwed the pooch from all angles. And while the Chicago Aviation Police may need to work on their public interface, ultimately it is United’s responsibility for removing the passengers.


    1. TxDsc – United doesn’t actually overbook more than others. At least, it doesn’t deny boarding more than others and instead tends to be middle of the pack. Take a look on page 35:

      This info is a bit misleading on the airline level since it’s by operating carrier. So that flight on Sunday? It will show up under Republic’s numbers and not United’s. But still, I don’t see any indicator that United is worse than others.

  53. What’s done is history. Hopefully airline management of all the carriers will learn something from this episode. They should have general guidelines covering when it may be feasible to cancel downline flights in order to protect and/or improve their corporate image. Airport supervisors and managers should have the authority to make common-sense decisions within the boundaries of those guidelines.

  54. It is deeply disturbing to see safety protocols used for matters of contract / terms of service. There was no safety issue until United called in the ‘Pinkerton Goons’ to for the purpose of their own financial gain at the expense of the honorable gentleman seeking to receive the service he bought and paid for.

    In a normal environment, the authorities would have quickly recognized the situation for what it was and quickly walked away. The Chicago security authority should be held accountable for assaulting that gentleman. I hope United loses billions of dollars over this.

    In today’s world $1350 for denial of service is pathetic. A missed business meeting or loss of a 1/2 day of business can easily cost multiple thousands of dollars.

  55. Here’s what I think should happen:

    I think that Congress should codify Rule 240 into law and make it binding on ALL airlines that operate in the USA.

    I think that the IDB compensation rules should be rewritten to at a minimum make the current 675$ and 1350$ figures a floor rather than a ceiling. In other words I would like to see 2x the cost of the air ticket plus any fees or 675$ whichever is greater or 4x the cost of the air ticket plus any fees or 1350$ whichever is greater depending on how long the passenger is delayed getting to his destination. Of course the airline should also be responsible for the lodging and meals (meals to a point) and all transport between airport and hotel. Perhaps even adopt the European rules.

    There also should be a clause to prohibit an airline from forcing a passenger off once he takes his assigned seat in order to accommodate an airline employee or anyone else. In such cases the only options the airline should be to either up the offer until someone accepts no matter how high or charter a private plane if necessary to get the employees where they need to go.

    What I think will happen:

    Almost nothing except UA might double down on their no photography/no filming policy within the cabin.

    1. I think the real issue here is the Business Model that the airline uses needs significant change. I was not too smart when it came to mathematics and logistics. I am unable to understand if a plane has seats for 100 passengers how can sell more than 100 passenger seats ( I got 200 out of 200 in Maths)

      Customers are disappointed.

      Until this question can be answered to the satisfaction of every passenger who has bought a ticket on a flight at that time of day on that day the CEO of the Airline must pay from his personal bank account compensation as the customer demands, my time is worth $250 per hour for the length of the inconvenience whether awake or asleep or watching TV, it does not matter.

      Shortly I am going a a bus tour of the United States for 23 days. If I miss my tour because of the Airlines action, the CEO will have to pay $6000.00 per day or $138,000.00 in total.

      I know this would result in significant changes by the CEO. to the way the Airline operates.

      Another solution is to get a new Chief Executive Officer.

      Process improvement by airlines is required and the Airline should be fined $1,000 by the regulator for every customer it moves without the written consent approval with clients signature.

  56. United controls their resevation systen and crew scheduling. If United needed non-rev seats for commuting crew, then don’t sell them to payibg passengers and then think bumping as acceptable.

  57. There seems to be a lot of confusion by some on the facts at hand, so instead of responding to all of them, I’ll just do a summary post. Let me just say, however, that with 140+ comments as of right now, the discussion has been fantastic.

    *United gate agents worked the flight. The flight was operated by Republic. It was a Republic crew that needed to get on at the last minute requiring the paying passengers to be removed.

    *The crew did not show up until after the flight was boarded, so the gate agents wouldn’t have known to hold back 4 seats. This was done at the last minute. Whether it needed to happen at the last minute or not… well, that’s unknown.

    *United couldn’t just put a crew in a cab or Uber and have them drive to Louisville. Union contracts won’t allow that, and there could have been issues bumping up into crew rest requirements if they got in that late anyway. (I don’t know, just saying it’s a consideration.) But it doesn’t mean United couldn’t have gotten more creative in getting passengers to Louisville before the next available United flight which appears to have been the next day.

    *I know everyone loves to play the blame game, but the 4 crew members who needed to be on that airplane were just following orders and have no fault in this. The gate agents may very well have been following orders too, but we don’t know. The only person we know who was NOT following orders was the passenger who got dragged off, but I digress. My guess is that blame lies more with management and policies than it does with individual front line people.

    *The idea that since he was a doctor with patients to see in the morning, United should have looked for someone else, is a receipt for disaster. Everyone is going to have an excuse as to why they are important. If that weren’t the case, then maybe someone on the airplane would have bothered to volunteer so the doctor could have gone on his way. But if the airline plays that game, the flight would never leave. Stick with the algorithm in the computer if it gets to that point. Just do everything you can to no get to that point.

    I think that covers most of it. There were a couple of comments with direct questions that I’ll respond to directly, but if I missed something, let me know.

    1. IO – as the coors commercials….”the cold hard facts”. IMO, that’s what United went with in this extreme case and in others where they threaten to remove passengers for various reasons, including letting higher paying passengers in.

      CF – imo, the assumptions you present read one-sided, as if created by the company. Obviously, you don’t work for the company but I respectfully suggest a more balanced approach when assumptions are used.

      I admit that due to the nature of the extreme act I’m biased. I hope you don’t take it personal.

      Thank you for providing a forum for us lesser geeks & dorks.

      1. IO – What assumptions? As far as I know, I’m writing known facts. Not sure what you want to be more balanced when those are the facts.

  58. Here’s what’s going to happen. Either UA will become extremely generous with their IDB (involuntary denied boarding) compensation in the immediate future or passengers will truly revolt every time this happens. Everybody stands up/refuses to sit down, etc….. I envision UAL will not be so quick to call airport police and will just cancel flights because NO ONE wants to cooperate. As Bette Davis said in All About Eve, “fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night”.

  59. Overbooking works most of the time, and enables airlines to maximise the load factor. Nothing wrong with that—-it helps keep prices down.
    Although there are statuary minimum payments for people involuntarily denied boarding, that doesn’t mean these are the maximum. Involuntary denial of boarding should be prohibited. If an airline overbooks, then they should get volunteers to off-load by increasing the payment until they get the requisite number of volunteers.

    If they up the anti enough they will get the volunteers.

    I suspect if this were the case, then the airlines would rapidly refine their computer algorithms to minimise the number of involuntarily denied boarding incidents thereby minimising their losses.

    Finally, the United’s Oscar Munoz is an idiot, or even a moron, and hopefully the non-executive Directors or the shareholders will get rid of him.

    PS.—I once negotiated with an airline in Europe for a $200 payment + a $30 meal voucher / shopping voucher to get bumped off a flight and re-booked for the next one 90 minutes later.

  60. Never in the history of airline travel has it happened that “airlines tried to get volunteers and they couldn’t”.

    What HAS happened is that “airlines tried to get volunteers for less than the maximum price the airline wanted to pay, and they couldn’t”.

    For $1,000,000 per seat, everyone on the plane would volunteer.
    For $10,000 per seat, you’d practically empty coach.

    Airlines should never force people out. They should find the market clearing price. If that’s higher than they want to pay, they should adjust their overbooking algorithm to reduce the probability of it happening again, rather than force a fully-paid customer to bear the cost.

    And don’t tell me about the fine print, anymore than you would tell me about the fine print on a web site’s terms and conditions.

  61. I haven’t caught up with the news yet today but has the first lamb been slaughtered yet?

    The only way United is going to get out of this is to fire someone or someone resign over it. It will have to be someone higher up the ladder, and not some peon gate agent. At least a low level vice president or a district manager.

  62. I wonder just how much they spend developing and maintaining the software and hardware used to calculate these oversold tickets. That’s a cost that wouldn’t be needed.

  63. Just heard you on On Point radio (NPR) and do not understand why you and the other guy they had on repeatedly said that the passenger was *required* to consent to his ejection from the aircraft, under the circumstances of the case. That’s not my understanding at all – from reports I’ve read in WAPO and elsewhere the governing contract terms of carriage relate to being bumped prior to being seated (See, also, CofC Rule 25 “denied boarding”). The doctor had *already* boarded. Obviously, the CofC in this respect was drafted inartfully, but it must be construed strongly against the airline who drafted it (and not the passenger who never even saw it). [ ]

    1. Gary – You can make legal arguments all you want, but if a crewmember tells you that you have to get off, you’re not going to win that argument. You can make the argument later that it was illegal, immoral, mean, whatever.
      But you’re not going to convince the crewmember with legal arguments that you should be able to stay on the airplane.

      1. Author – Maybe I will and maybe I won’t – but that’s really neither here nor there if I am willing to tread the path I’ve chosen. Certainly, if I could have recited chapter and verse of relevant Contract of Carriage provisions (etc.), I would have found the time to inform the little tyrants facing me that I was in the right and they were in the wrong, and that I would be suing their bosses’ pants off (and theirs as well), if they went further afield from mere attempted breach of contract, and conspired to commit assault and battery upon me by the laying-upon of hands . . . Maybe mentioning that, and the fact that I was an attorney (and had some skillful friends or acquaintances like-situated) might have prompted a confab between airline minion #1 and airline minion-higher-up and might have resulted in a different decision tree than resulted here. Maybe, maybe not. Alot of *my* decision would depend on how “ornery” I felt and how much I was in a rush to get to Louisville, I guess. And how officiously -slash- peremptorily -slash-dismissively I felt I was being treated. I mean, some days, I *do* feel that I’m just a half-step above being a piece of luggage, and on such days, I might not have the inclination or the gumption to take offense to the offense which was most definitely and generously handed out by United, here.

  64. It seems to me an under-reported issue here is the shameless sharp-elbowing that legacy carriers wield in shuttling non-rev’s, while revoking the most precious commodity that paying passengers have. Their time.

    The UA/Republic RJ was fully boarded. All ducks in a row. Then rolls up the TravelPro gang wanting to board. And time suddenly stops. For all passengers. Warning light in the cockpit? Ground stop? Weather?

    No. Because the airline calls the shots, and suddenly the passengers’ are on hold.

    I feel that passengers’ time should be considered sacred, whether it’s to see patients or a loved one the next day, it’s unfair for the airlines to indiscriminately remove that precious possession from an already weary public to accommodate their own operational shortcomings.

    While I understand that crews need to get to their homebase airport or their next assignment, it’s terrible customer service to have this played-out not only in “front” of the paying customers, but “in spite of” the customers.

    Legacy carriers (including their liveried feeders) need to come up with a better model for shuttling non-revs. Period.

    1. RipR – Well, apparently had this crew not been able to get there, another flight would have canceled, so this was an attempt to look out for the customer. Better to inconvenience 4 people than 70+. The issue, of course, is that United should have tried harder to make everyone happy whether through increased offers or better reaccommodation options.

      1. Author – Well, your first sentence certainly sets out *one* way of framing it. Another way (which includes the point of your second sentence) is that United didn’t *really* give two hoots of a damn about “the customer”, but rather (a) chose to do precisely what, in its little tyrant’s judgment, it wanted to and precisely *when* it wanted to, and (b) didn’t think things through and consider that one of its customers might actually be a human being (and not a piece of luggage) who might (i) take a different view of the matter and (ii) be willing to insist on his rights. That’s the first level of what United did and did not consider or think through. The second level is what happens in such circumstances when the airline tasks their baggage-handlers/the cops to nonetheless remove this sentient and self-respecting non-luggage from the seat he’s paid for and is wholly entitled to occupy. The third level is what happens then, given cell phones, the internet, and the outrageousness of the airline’s choices, when that non-luggage stands his ground.

    2. The only better way to handle DEADHEADERS, not non-revs in this case, is to be proactive rather than reactive. I don’t know why that deadheader crew was a last minute deal. There are still facts to uncover such as why a greater offer wasn’t granted to entice people to volunteer and why couldn’t that crew go on a later flight to SDF. However, there is no better model for the actual transport of DH crews. The timing seems to be the main perpetrator so far. I do have a huge beef with one of the two pilots not taking the jumpseat in the flight deck, thus relieving one seat in the cabin to a paying passenger. True, they don’t have to per their pilot contract but I always do in that case. And I’ll even do it to get an actual non-rev on.

      Have a fabulous day! Aloha!

      1. I can’t figure out why the person who told these four crewmembers that they had to go to SDF, couldn’t call the gate to tell them that there were four deadheaders coming and they have to get on this flight. Even if it was just a possibility they needed to hold back four seats, they could have called the gate early enough to notify them that they need to hold four seats back.

        1. Or put the DH’s on any of the dozen-or-so other airplanes that were going to SDF. That’s what United was going to do for those “reaccomodated” passengers. Why not “reaccomodate” the DH’s the same way? Is someone suggesting that non-flying crew (DH’s) are somehow more worthy of a seat than a paying passenger? If so, I believe we have found the source of the Customer experience nightmare that is United Airlines.

  65. Missed the point! As always thanks for the insight but to the public this *is* semantics. If you *must* give seats away, whether it’s to flight personnel or other passengers then the flight is “overbooked” — you, airline, oversold the flight — you sold seats you didn’t have (and should have known you didn’t).

    You’re using (and the industry too) “overbooking” as jargon for a certain business situation but believe me, passengers make no such distinction. You didn’t have enough seats, that sounds like “overbooking.” Passengers don’t care who the seat goes to.

    With that in mind, the criticism of United’s attitude seems totally appropriate. If you involuntarily remove a paid customer from a flight, that’s a big deal. It may be 0.008% of passengers but that attitude is unacceptable. That $1350 can easily fail to cover the total costs of such an inconvenience. Imagine missing a cruise, job interview, wedding, or funeral because your bumped.

    If the Airlines want to have a new separate “no-bump” fee, their entitled to do that but otherwise every point-of-sale carries an explicit promise that if that plane takes off and you got there in time, you’ll be on it. Breaking that promise should be a lost more costly and at least as painful (and bloody?) for airlines as it is for passengers.

    1. Joflyer – But it’s not missing the point. This entire post was responding to the massive outpouring of articles in the media talking about the evils of overselling flights. I was only tangentially touching on the incident itself, though the comments have certainly focused on that. My point is that this has nothing to do with overbooking or overselling. So when people get all up in arms about how horrible it is because of this instance, the two are unrelated.

      1. I see your point and I *definitely* appreciate the context and explanation of how overselling is good for the industry and passengers. It is important information and I’m not criticizing that.

        The issue is with the unfairness of the process. It should *never* get to the point where the police are called. If the airline offered $2000 cash for a volunteer someone would have stepped up. The fact that United was unwilling to pay what that seat was actually worth to the passengers on that plane and chose to call the police shows that there is a relationship between this incident and their overbooking policy.

        It could have easily been an overselling issue (as you defined it) and based on United’s policy the outcome would have been the same. In fact, your information gave me a worse impression of United. This should be a regular enough situation that they should be pros at handling it. Clearly their policies didn’t take into account this obvious outcome; United failed.

      2. CF – Consider, for a moment, the name of your website. ;-) By its very nature, we’re here to participate in a community of savvy airline travelers, each with our own bit of experience and biting humor to bring to the table.

        I’ll offer that, while commendable, attempting to surgically carve out “Overselling” from the United debacle and hold it up as a shining example of successful capitalism, was not a wining strategy. Overselling doesn’t need defending; it can stand on its own merits and survive a media storm (social or otherwise). What needs defending is passenger’s rights to not be pulled from a boarded plane in order to “accommodate” a higher paying customer.

        Can you imagine the outrage if a taxi company did that? “Excuse me sir, I realize you just got into your cab, but this lady just walked up and offered us $50 cash to kick you out of the taxi so she can have it for herself. We will give you $20 and reseat you in the next available cab from our company.” “Ummm… , I’m already late.” “But sir, we insist. You will need to get out of the cab so this higher paying customer can use our service!” “No, I won’t get out.” [yelling to the passing cop] “Officer! We need this person removed from the taxi – they are refusing our instruction to get out.” [Officer reaches in and drags them from the taxi.] The higher paying taxi passenger is escorted over the body of the “reaccomodated” passenger and into the taxi’s already warm seat, and the taxi drives away.

        We’re not upset about overselling/overbooking. We’re upset airlines are legally allowed to treat us like the cattle they consider us to be.

        1. agree with you steve. though when running and analyzing the numbers they make may $ense in its application there are people behind those numbers and we the people are complex beings, and at the end of the day we are people not numbers.

          Airlines seem to have gotten away with this and other policies as they seem to still be tied to the gov’t that “deregulated” them but previously and for a many decades had set fares, routes etc. Admittedly, it’s not all bad as due to the nature of the business the gov’t may need to maintain oversight for safety reasons.

          imo, though technically not an oversold flight… the gate it did become oversold when passengers were asked and forcibly removed from the flight.

  66. The issue was very similar to an overbooking issue. Whether it was a walk-up passenger that needed the seat or a crew member is pretty irrelevant. The bottom line is that the airline did not have enough seats to accommodate all ticketed passengers.

    1. It’s funny you used the word “needed.” No one needed that seat any more or less than anyone else. The crew members didn’t “need” those seats, the airline just WANTED the seats more than they were willing to pay someone to want them less.

      United’s actions were fine, right up until the moment they decided to remove the already boarded customer, involuntarily. That should absolutely be illegal. The very existence of DOZENS of others airlines, flying from that major hub to another major hub negates any argument that those seats were “critical to the operation of the airline.” No… the reality was that seat was critical to the profit margin of the flight those crew were to fly next. Bad bet on the airline’s part = involuntary removal of passengers.

  67. Cranky – When the decided their crew’s convenience negated their customer’s satisfaction, they lost me as a customer forever. There’s nothing that can undo the fact that those crew members had (literally) a dozen different flights they could have taken on the airlines leaving that airport in order to get to their destination on time. When they couldn’t get enough volunteers, they should have taken a deep breath, admitted they lost the best (get people to volunteer) and pay the price to move their employees some other way.

    One other thing to consider, when looking at the 46,000+ forced removals, is the simple fact that they cannot possibly ALL be to accommodate wayward crew. When a passenger books a last-minute $1400 ticket from DFW to LAX, and they arrive at the gate 12 minutes before departure, the airline will absolutely reach into that already boarded plane, locate the least expensive ticketed passenger (middle seat anyone?) and pull them off. That $1400 ticket (which was fully refundable until they boarded, BTW) is now securely in their hands, and that $159 cheapo ticket from… well, they are out of a seat and have a $200 voucher for future travel on the airline that just sold them up the river. Furthermore, and the most terrible aspect of all of this: If that $159 middle-seat passenger is asked to get up and off the plane by the flight attendant, and they say: “No”, the airline simply declares them “non-compliant” and they no longer owe that customer a penny. Don’t think this happens? Thinking “Oh, come on… that’s not how airlines work! They would NEVER bump a cheap ticket in favor of retaining a full-fair ticket, especially once they are boarded!” I wish I could live in a fairytale world like that. But as the bloody-lipped non-compliant passenger will tell you: Its true and of course it happens. 46,000 times a year.

  68. It is not ‘totally’ overbooking issue but I want to state several issues here.
    1. Airlines can do overbook to max their profit but it needs to minimize it.
    2. It offers a travel voucher but I don’t want to get on the same airline anymore if it bump me off.
    It has to be a cash.
    3. I don’t think $1,350 is enough money in many cases if you got bump involuntarily.
    It should offer more until there is someone take a deal.

    1. I completely agree on all three points, but I suggest the REAL solution is to disallow airlines from being able to involuntarily bump a boarded passenger simply to “accommodate” another person to sit in that same seat. Ever.

      There’s absolutely no reason to permit such an act by a company.

      People can claim “but what about such-and-such a situation???”, but if they stop and give it just a moment of objective, rational thought, they would realize that at least 4 or 5 other options exist for the airline, but none of them are as profitable as that one. SO, because it’s legal, they chose that one. If you made that specific act illegal, the world wouldn’t end, planes wouldn’t drop out of the sky. What would happen is airlines would be forced to select one of those other, less profitable options and allow those passengers already on the plane to remain seated and get to their destination.

      1. Finally someone has a BRILLIANT idea that everyone likes except for last minute Freddie

  69. Meh; saying this “isn’t overbooking” is a distinction without a difference. Whether the seats are needed for other paying passengers vs. needed to transport crew doesn’t make any difference at all to the person who is going to have to take a later flight. I have no problem with classifying both situations under the same name.

  70. Watching this press conference with his lawyer, the lawyer comes across as an arrogant smarmy twat.

    I mean it shouldn’t have happened but this guy wasn’t burned at the freaking stake!! FFS!!!

    Yeah united called the police but still.

    1. That’s what lawyers do. Imagine what the airline’s lawyer will be saying when she/he describes the plaintiff? “He was defiant and disruptive and ultimately a security risk to all 150+ passengers on that plane! Safety of our crew and our passengers is of the utmost importance!”

  71. I disagree with the statement that the flight isn’t overbooked. If at any point there are more confirmed reserved ticket holders than there are seats for confirmed reserved ticket holders, the flight is overbooked. If more confirmed reserved ticket holders show up to the gate than there are seats for confirmed reserved ticket holders, then the flight is oversold. So it stands to reason that all oversold flights are overbooked but not all overbooked flights are oversold. That being said, under the existing priority rules set by United, and that United is required by federal law to follow, the moment it needed to move an emergency replacement crew on that flight, said crew became must travel deadhead positive space. Their very existence created a scenario where there were more confirmed reserved ticket holders than legally available seats, and thus they were overbooked. Again, federal law requires them to follow their pre-established priority rules when determining who to deny boarding (after nobody volunteers), and federal law requires them to follow those pre-established priority rules regardless of whether or not the passengers are already on the plane. That is why this is still considered to be a denial of boarding.

    1. “The moment it needed to move an emergency replacement crew on that flight…”

      Emergency? You make it sound as if there was some disaster at another airport that caused this condition to exist. That’s simply not true! The airline chose to reduce their crew count (lay-offs, reduced staffing) to increase their profits. But now, when someone gets sick and they are short a crew member, it’s an “emergency” situation? How about putting them on that American Airlines flight that leaves 15 minutes from now? Or that Jet Blue flight that leaves in 18 minutes?

      Here’s my “the moment” statement:

      “The moment the airline refused to accept that they lost their own bet (bare minimum crew employed + enough passengers will volunteer to get off the plane they already boarded), and flexed their monopolistic muscles to reach into an already boarded plane, select the lowest fare customer and force them to get up and leave the plane… that’s when they lost all credibility.”

      Like you said, Federal law requires each airline to follow their own written procedure, but don’t try and make it sound like the FAA vets those procedures (they don’t) or has any rules about how those procedures work (they don’t). The truth is, airlines are required to write down their procedures, whatever they are, and then follow them every time. The only demands the FCC places on airlines is the minimum dollar amounts they must compensate in cases of involuntary bumping.

      Those procedures vary dramatically per airline.

      As we all found out on Sunday, United’s written procedure includes retaining help from local law enforcement muscle when their flight attendants are unable to remove a paying customer from their seat in order to ensure the airline’s continued profit maximization.

      Finally, and most importantly, consider that there is no way all 46,000 times this is done each year is due to an “emergency.” The majority of these forced bumps (removal of paid passengers from a plane they have already boarded) are done to replace low fair passengers with last-minute ticket purchase fairs. $159 passenger forcefully bumped to “accommodate” a $1500 passenger… that’s a win-win for the airline. The $159 passenger gets their $300 voucher to fly with them in the future (70% of all vouchers expire and go unused) and the airline keeps the $1500 fair. Plus, the $1500 passenger is incentivized to fly with them again, because (yes, we all know it) they get to stand at the top of the jetway near the podium and watch as some poor slob gets pulled off the plane and then they get to walk on board and sit in their still-warm seat.

      Please don’t encourage the airlines to hide behind legaleaze. Call a spade a spade: They lost the bet they made and they are unwilling to suffer the consequences… because no one makes them.

  72. If they want people to give up their seats once they are sitting in them they need to stop waving vouchers and start waving cash. 65 $20 bills is a lot different and a voucher for the same amount of $1,300. All that cash would certainly change my mind over a piece of paper I may never use.

  73. It’s more than a fascination of the public. It’s quite simple: if I pay for a ticket, I don’t want to get the shit kicked out of me and dragged off a fucking plane.

    Everything else is details.

  74. The concept that overbooking leads to lower fares is proven to be false in that JetBlue does not overbook (except in very specific situations) and yet they are able to deliver competitive (within a dollar or two) fares in all of the markets they face competition.

  75. Overbooking was only part of the problem with the infamous United flight. We have been told that seats were needed for crew members to get to their future work destination. At first I thought, What? You didn’t know this 45 minutes in advance, before you boarded people? Later, I learned that United’s policy was to allow personnel to board a flight just before takeoff. Gee, United’s admin couldn’t forsee problems with this policy? Now we’re told that United changed this policy to an hour notice before passengers can be bumped. It’s about time and poor Dr. Dao was the sacrificial lamb. “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

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