In a time period of growing division, people from every corner of the internet found a common cause to decry on Monday and Tuesday when video surfaced of a man being forcibly removed from a United Airlines plane because the airline needed to free up space for four of their own employees.
The man, identified later as a doctor who was taking the Louisville-bound flight out of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to see patients the next morning, becomes visibly and vocally distressed when security personnel violently grab at him after he refused to leave the plane voluntarily at their demands.
Passengers looked on with shock and horror as the innocent flier is yanked from his seat and then falls, slamming face-first into an arm rest on the opposite side of the aisle. His body goes limp – apparently knocked unconscious – as the security personnel drag his motionless body down the aisle and out of the plane; some blood visibly running down his face.
Overbooking flights is nothing new for airliners, however getting overbooked passengers off of an overbooked flight rarely requires more to fix than offering travel vouchers (usually between $500 and $1,000 depending on the value of the ticket purchased) in exchange for finding another flight. In this case, United ceased their offers to passengers at $1,000, refusing to go over that number even though they could have gone to a max of $1,350.
What occurred in this instance can be described as nothing less than a public relations nightmare for United, who actually saw a visible stock plummet of over one percent by the end of Tuesday, and saw hundreds of thousands of shocked and outraged social media reactions pointed in their direction.
But beyond the PR consequences this incident will have for United’s image – especially since the floodgates have seemingly opened with other stories emerging of misconduct performed by United – the airline could very likely face a lawsuit from the doctor they violently removed. The man underwent treatment at a hospital in Chicago after the event unfolded.
It would be hard for anybody to defend the actions of United in this case, especially since there are multiple in-person witnesses and video footage of the incident, which paints a clear picture of unnecessary force used without just cause. The security official who pulled the man from his seat has apparently been put on leave, the airline saying his conduct “was not in accordance with our standard operating procedure.”
United could have handled the matter in many different, more appropriate ways. According to United, the employees that they were trying to clear room for on the flight actually didn’t need to be in Louisville until the next day, meaning they could have taken any number of different flights to get them there on time, or even had them driven there, since it is only a four to five hour drive from Chicago to Louisville.
All this goes to say that the man removed from the flight has a legitimate legal case to bring forth due to the injuries he sustained during the incident and the manner in which he was treated. He did not commit a crime, he was not being belligerent or aggressive. He was instructed to get off a plane that he had paid to be on, and he needed to get to his destination just the same as the United employees.
At Altman & Altman LLP, we believe in standing up for people who are injured due to the thoughtless actions of others, and standing up to the large corporate entities who might try to exert their power over those who may be unable to fight back. If you or a loved one has been injured in a situation similar to the United incident, please call us today for a free consultation at 617-492-3000 or toll-free at 800-481-6199. We are available 24/7.