United Airlines is on the defensive after a passenger was dragged off an overbooked plane — another public relations misstep for an industry that is reaping record earnings while squeezing more fliers into smaller seats.
The Chicago-based carrier said it was following procedure Sunday night when employees realized that the airline had overbooked an 80-seat jet flying from Chicago to Louisville, Ky., and could not get enough passengers to voluntarily give up their seats.
The incident, caught on video by several passengers, shows an unidentified man, whom the airline picked to boot from the flight, screaming as airport police drag him out of his seat and down the aisle while some other fliers call out in protest. Photos and video shared online show the man with blood on his lip as he is pulled down the aisle; later, he returns briefly to the plane and appears disoriented, with blood smeared extensively over his chin.
The airline was trying to make room for four of its employees on the Sunday evening flight to Louisville, Kentucky.
When no-one volunteered, a United manager came on the plane and announced passengers would be chosen at random.
“We almost felt like we were being taken hostage,” Mr Bridges said.
“We were stuck there. You can’t do anything as a traveller. You’re relying on the airline.”
When airline employees named four customers who had to leave the plane, three of them did so. The fourth person refused to move, and police were called, United spokesman Charlie Hobart said.
“We followed the right procedures,” Mr Hobart said.
“That plane had to depart. We wanted to get our customers to their destinations.”
Passenger said he was a doctor, had to see patients
The passenger told the manager he was a doctor who needed to see patients in the morning, Mr Bridges said.
“He was kind of saying that he was being singled out because he’s a Chinese man” when speaking to the manager, Mr Bridges said.
The Associated Press was unable to confirm the passenger’s identity.