United’s Removal Of Passengers May Not Have Been Legal

Filed Under: United

In light of Sunday night’s incident on a United flight between Chicago and Louisville, an interesting discussion is starting to emerge about the legality of what United did, by refusing transport to this passenger. What seems to have happened here is that the flight wasn’t actually oversold in advance (rather it was booked to capacity), but then last minute four United employees needed to be transported to Louisville, so they could work a flight from there the next day.

What’s unusual is that they were only booked on the flight last minute, and apparently everyone had already boarded. That’s what makes this exceptionally rare, and one has to wonder how exactly that happened, especially when they had already boarded a flight that was at capacity.

So far the conversation has centered around how this passenger was involuntarily denied boarding. The Department of Transportation has specific guidelines in place for how airlines can deny boarding to passengers. However, that may not be the case at all here. First let me say that I’m not a lawyer, so take what I say with a grain of salt (though I’ve talked to some lawyer friends about this, and they seem to have a similar perspective).

The passenger wasn’t denied boarding — he had a confirmed seat, and was allowed to board and take that seat.

Later they come onboard and asked him to get off the plane. At that point that’s no longer being denied boarding, but rather being refused transport. United’s contract of carriage addresses both of these situations:

The contract of carriage lists a bunch of reasons that the airline can refuse transport to someone, though a flight being oversold after a passenger has boarded isn’t one of them. In looking at the Department of Transportation regulations, I don’t see anything that clarifies how they define “denied boarding.”

In light of that, it sure seems like this was a case of refusal to transport, rather than a case of denied boarding, since the passenger wasn’t denied boarding. If this was a refusal to transport case, then United had no legal grounds on which to refuse him transport, based on the contract of carriage.

If that’s the case, did United use police force to incorrectly enforce a contract?

When this story first emerged it sure seemed to me like United may have technically been within their rights to refuse this passenger transport, but even that isn’t looking likely at this point.

It would seem to me that once passengers have boarded, the only way to have them get off the plane is through a voluntary system, by offering compensation that they agree to. Without that, this isn’t a denied boarding case, but rather a refusal to transport case.

This has been a quickly-moving story with myriad updates. The full coverage of the United incident from the One Mile at a Time team is as follows:

Crazy Video: Passenger Forcibly Dragged Off United Flight
What United Really Screwed Up With Their Latest Viral Incident
The Horrible Video I Hadn’t Seen Of The Guy Being Dragged Off A United Flight...
Why United’s Incident Is A Much Bigger Deal Than You May Think
Pathetic: United’s CEO Makes The Denied Boarding Fiasco Even Worse
What Are Your Rights If You Get Bumped From A Flight?
United’s Removal Of Passengers May Not Have Been Legal
The Root Cause Of United’s Denied Boarding Fiasco
Wow: Emirates Throws Major (But Fair) Shade At United In New Video
FINALLY: United’s CEO Issues A Real Apology For What Happened
I’m Sorry: My Initial Reaction To The United Situation Was Wrong
Fascinating: Good Morning America Interviews United’s CEO
United Is Refunding The Fares Of All Passengers On Flight 3411
  1. Thanks for raising this point. I have been raising it both here and on Gary’s blog. About time someone from United does some jail time so that this kind of behavior stops

  2. They refused him transport. He disobeyed flight crew orders to deplane, which, I obviously need to remind, is a federal offense. He got what he asked for.

  3. @ Captain Obvious — But United had no right to refuse him transport, unless you read it differently? So him disobeying incorrect crewmember instructions was based on a false command. It’s like a flight attendant telling you to do a handstand and refusing. He seems in the right here…

  4. @Captain Obvious – if you refuse due to an “unlawful command”, its not an “offense” by law automatically.

  5. Good points. And thank you for correctly pointing out this was not an oversold flight. I understand and accept that –though annoying- there are reasons why airlines oversell. I view this situation as much more egregious.

  6. @Captain Obvious – Good luck finding a jury that would indict, let alone convict the guy given the circumstances! And right, it would be great for UA’s PR to press charges or even hide behind the “federal offense” shield. Not.

  7. I wish all the bloggers would gather all the facts first. Or at least give him the benefit of the doubt initially. Instead of just blaming the victims. Every blogger came out defending United at first.

  8. @ Sean M. — I had read 14 CFR 250.2, and maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see where it addresses at what stage in the boarding process this can happen? Can you point me in the right direction?

  9. slightly off topic: anybody know of any companies hiring former airline CEOs? asking for a friend.

  10. Even assuming it was within Rule 21, he has very limited recourse against United (against the police is another matter) as subsection J states:

    “UA is not liable for its refusal to transport any passenger or for its removal of any passenger in accordance with this Rule. A Passenger who is removed or refused transportation in accordance with this Rule may be eligible for a refund upon request. See Rule 27 A). As an express precondition to issuance of any refund, UA shall not be responsible for damages of any kind whatsoever. The passenger’s sole and exclusive remedy shall be Rule 27 A).”

    Rule 27(A) states: Ticket Refunds – Involuntary
    The amount UA will refund upon surrender of the unused portion of the Passenger’s Ticket for reasons pursuant to Rule 21 or Rule 24 will be as follows:
    If no portion of the Ticket has been used: An amount equal to the fare and charges paid.

  11. @Kai: That’s because aviation bloggers need the airlines. They cannot afford to be impartial. I’m not surprised they all came out defending United.

  12. @Captain Obvious: it was not disobeying to an order, it was a breech of contract by United. And of course even in the Land of the Free it is not a federal offence to refuse an unlawful order/request. The following acts of United and the called “security” (yes, I put this in marks on purpise) where a breech of contract and unlawful action, not the ones of rhe passenger. The passenger should sue United as well as the officers for compensation. I see a good chance of winning here…

  13. Captain Obvious is the grossest type of ‘law and order’ nationalist that this society has now created with the police state.

    So if the FA would’ve instructed the man to get naked and he refused then “he gets what’s coming to him” for ignoring an unlawful command?

    I hope UA and the law enforcement agencies involved get flogged in a court of law. UA civilly and the cops criminally for brutalizing this man without cause.

  14. @ Ben — Sure, United tries to say that, but I doubt it would hold up in court. It’s the same way that valets say they have no liability if they damage your car, but in practice they still are liable (through their insurance). And it says they’re not liable for their removal of passengers “in accordance” with this rule. It doesn’t seem to me like they were acting “in accordance” with this rule.

  15. At this end of the day this was a very costly mistake for them. Stock price, legal fees, settlements, and PR. Plaintiff attorneys and I am sure the Doctor knows someone will file very quickly. If me and my family was on board I would sue for emotional damage. That is what matters in this case. What are the damages to the Doctor and anyone on that flight. United will settle all of the cases because if any of the cases would go to jury I think we know what would happen. They’ll pay several law firms one thousand dollars an hour to settle the cases. As for the CEO, my guess is he’ll resign for health reasons in lieu of being fired. Kirby will be named CEO. My thoughts but keep an eye on the stock price. Remember JetBlue CEO, he founded that company and he got fired.

  16. According to the contract clause regarding refusal of transport, they can do so in response to a failure to follow crew instructions. However, in this case it appears that wouldn’t apply because his failure to comply comes after he has already been refused transport (the effect, not the cause). United broke their contract of carriage.

    I’m not disregarding the federal offense. I do see two see separate issues here though.

  17. I am not a lawyer either, but a breach of the contract of carriage is a civil matter. Refusing to follow crew instructions is a federal criminal matter. You could sue for damages for breach of contract after the fact. Even if it was a breach of contract, that’s not a valid defense for a criminal act.

    Do we really want to set precedent that if you think you are right you can simply refuse to follow crew orders? If you refuse to gate check your bag because all bins are full, should the whole plane sit and wait for you while you demand justice? What if they need to offload a passenger for weight and balance reasons and you are the unlucky chosen passenger.. should you be able to simply refuse to deplane?

    Having said that, surely there were better ways for United and the police to handle the situation.

  18. Bigger issue? Compared to the DJ Airline index, UAL has destroyed over $525M in market cap today. Given Oscar’s holdings, that’s about $650K directly out of his pocket. Think they’d rather have spent an extra $2,000 to buy someone off that bird?

  19. Refusal to Transport, based on the definitions they give in the COC, is more to do with revoking a ticket. They were refusing to transport him on that specific plane at that specific time, but they weren’t refusing to transport him overall, he would have been rebooked. This is one of those cases where jargon and plain English conflict, leading to a confusing situation. From an operational standpoint, this is the same as an IDB. Maybe they should rename it Involuntarily Denied Seating Occupancy to avoid confusion?

  20. What about the Captain ? Doesn’t he have the right to decide not to ‘transport’ someone ?
    Im not defending United, they indeed did a bad job handling the situation..but deadhead crew is the most important passenger for the airline..
    Also what about jumpseats?
    I know that its the Captains decision if an airline employee gets to sit on a jumpseat when a flight is full..


    H. Whenever refusal or removal of a Passenger may be necessary for the safety of such Passenger or other Passengers or members of the crew including, but not limited to: Passengers who fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew, federal regulations, or security directives;

    If they airline employee says you have to leave you have to leave. There is no way around this….

  22. @Sean M
    Generally, I thought you have been very insightful. However, regarding this issue I am with Lucky here.

    250.2a “In the event of an oversold flight, every carrier shall ensure that the smallest practicable number of persons holding confirmed reserved space on that flight are denied boarding involuntarily.”

    Yesterday Oscar Munoz said, the 4 crew members approached the gate agent “after” the plane was “fully board”. So he confirmed that the doctor was boarded and that these 4 crew members asked about boarding afterwards. If that is chronologically correct, why is it not the crew members be denied to board but the doctor being drag off the plane?

  23. Some people seem to think just the police are too blame but a good attorney could make a case to the jury that the aviation police are in essence mafia thugs for the airlines.

  24. Yeah this seems pretty clear to me that United is liable (it might not be “illegal” but they definitely have civil liability to the passengers they kicked off). Also, regarding captainobvious’s point, the refusal to obey crew orders is a wholly separate issue from the refusal to transport. Regardless of whether they “can” kick him off the plane in this post-9/11 era where they pretty much have complete authority to do so and have law enforcement help them to do so, that doesn’t rewrite the contract of carriage that exists between UA and the passenger. If UA wants to refuse transport after boarding for an overbooking situation, they have to explicitly contract for it, otherwise they should be found to have breached the contract. Given that there’s nothing in their contract that gives them the right to remove a passenger from a plane in an overbooking situation, he was perfectly within his rights to stay and still has grounds to sue (at least for that part, it would be harder to sue UA for the appalling conduct of the police). If United really wanted people to get off that plane, they should have had to keep upping the offer until they got takers. They had absolutely no contractual right to unilaterally amend the contract of carriage and the passenger, under contract law, had every right to refuse their order to disboard.

  25. @EB This has happened to me in Dubai. I was the first person to check in (15 hr connection due to a misconnect) and also the first person in line at boarding on a single class flight. Gate Agent says I have to gate check my carryon because they have a full flight. I clearly told them I am first in line because I cannot gatecheck my luggage as it has breakable souveneirs and Insulin which I need mid-flight. GA tried to be clever by asking me to wait on the side while she calls management. Obviously the bins would get full and then I would have no choice but to gate check. I refused to move out of line. I refused. They threatened to call the cops. I threatened to call the embassy. Finally they backed down when they realized I lived in the US and was not a cheap worker in the Gulf. Noticeably no white guy or Arab guy was being asked to gate check. This was Indians working in the gulf discriminating against Indians (slave mentality from centuries of colonization). When you are a minority you have to stand your ground because there are undercurrents on why you are being singled out. I was willing to get detained and get beaten up but I was not willing to get bullied. If you live in fear you die everyday.

  26. How can this be, Ben? All of the expert travel bloggers have already assured us that what UA did was perfectly legal.

    I thought the legal science was settled. /s

  27. Yes I understand your conclusion, but I still think UA is on firm ground here under Federal law.

    Under Federal Law the captian is God on the aircraft and his/her word goes. Last year there was an incident of a pilot removing someone because he was doing calculus and it scares another passenger. UA also has the Safety section in the CoC and if his conduct was “disorderly, offensive, abusive, or violent” (UA said he was swearing), they have the right to remove him if the Capitan wanted him off after they asked him to get off.

    More likely UA is covered under the “Force Majeure and Other Unforeseeable Conditions” sections as it is pretty broadly written and UA could enforce it if weather or another unforseen condition required them to fly a crew to SDF. As they were deadheading to a non hub this is most likely a reason why they had to dead head a crew UA4600 DEN-SDF on Sunday was 2+ hrs late on arrival this could have caused the crew to not meet minimum rest times so UA decided to deadhead a crew so as to not delay the flight the next day, that is an unforseen circumstance so UA can refuse transport under that section.

  28. Excellent point. Last night ABC news reported that the four who were selected were “randomly chosen.” i wonder if their elite members or F passengers were part of that pool of passengers to be randomly removed? This thing is getting more stinky by the hour. A “PR nightmare” is an understatement….

  29. Munoz made a statement that the passenger became increasingly disruptive and belligerent. Not sure that the videos corroborate that point of view, as it appeared that he only became physically disruptive once the police/security personnel put their hands on him to drag him off the plane.

  30. The physical act of a gate agent scanning a ticket and a passenger entering a jetway is not relevant, involuntary denied boarding is what happens when an airline has fewer seats available for customers than there are passengers with confirmed travel on the flight. That’s what happened here. And it happens every day.

    For instance, when an airline boards exactly the number of people as seats but they find that there’s a broken seat that cannot be fixed prior to departure, they involuntarily deny boarding to a passenger even though the passenger has already entered the aircraft.

    Involuntary denied boarding is a term of art, the question of whether someone has or has not “boarded” isn’t relevant, for instance physically allowing someone onto the plane doesn’t REMOVE the compensation obligations of 14 CFR 250…

  31. ….and while we keep discussing Wall St is penalizing them badly. UA shares are melting and shareholders are not happy.

  32. Ohhhhhh that doctor!?

    According to a series of medical journals and newspaper reports, Dr. David Dao has previously been charged with offering pharmaceutical drugs for sex as well as stalking.
    At one point, the doctor was even facing prison for 20 years.
    As reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal, 69-year-old Dao once performed a genital exam on a patient who came to David for chest pain and a collapsed lung.
    He later made that man his officer manager and when he eventually quit, Dao stalked him and offered him prescription pills in return for sex acts.
    Dao studied to become a doctor in his homeland, Vietnam, before moving to Elizabethtown, Kentucky where he worked as a pulmonologist before being arrested in 2003.
    Dao was convicted of multiple felony counts of obtaining drugs by fraud or deceit in November 2004 and was placed on five years of supervised probation in January 2005.
    The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure permitted Dao to resume practicing medicine in 2015 under certain conditions.

  33. @Brad Cause and effect cannot be reversed. A person caanot be ejected for being rude if the only reason he was being rude was the Airline was trying to eject him illegally. What if a cop walks up to you and starts beating you and then when you defend yourself you are arrested for assaulting an officer of the law and the cops beating you is considered necessary force for arresting a suspect accused of assaulting a officer of the law? Till the Captain has a valid reason to ask him to leave, asking him to leave is not legal. Not allowing him on was legal but once he is on there has to be a valid reason for him to leave (someone mistakenly though he was a security threat) or he has BO. Not having enough seats to fly some deadbeat pilots who turned up late for a flight is not a valid reason. And these deadbeats obviously could have flown the AA flight 30 minutes later if they were able to fly this flight 3 hrs later. They just thought they would get away with it.

  34. @ Captain Obvious, or Captain Preposterous, and Sean M.

    I simply cannot believe that FA’s have been deputized to be arbitrary dictators who can tell a passenger “show me your tits”.

    Indeed, I have searched for statutes/regulations addressing this, and all I find is a USC reference banning interference with an FA’s duties and CFR references to an affirmative duty to follow FA instructions concerning smoking and seatbelts. See https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/121.317. If there is a broad statutory grant of the affirmative authority you claim, I’d take interest in what it is and how the decisional law has interpreted it.

    Until you can provide such, please shut up.

  35. The amount of people on here defending and supporting absolute unquestioned power of authority figures, especially Americans is downright scary. This is how civil and free societies transform into dystopian despotic nightmares. Had more people been willing to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience our history would have been much different and probably a lot less bloody.

    @ Alinsfca – nah, everything I have seen of Sean M’s comments he has always been the biggest proponent of total surrender and forfeiture of civil rights to authority figures whom he evidently feels they must always be beyond any questioning. I think he must be from Russia or Eastern Europe, he surely cannot be an American with that mindset.

  36. Three points: (1) the Contract of Carriage might be an adhesion contract, meaning, generally, a contract drafted by one party with superior bargaining power, presented in a take-it-or-leave-it form to the other party. For example, a contract with a cable company. Any ambiguities in such contracts are usually construed against the drafter. Therefore, there may be a good argument to be made that United was in breach of Rule 21 of its Contract of Carriage, since it did not specifically provide for a passenger to be involuntarily deplaned to make way for a crew working another flight.

    (2) It seems to me that you do not have to obey any and all commands from a flight crew, especially illegal commands. If a flight attendant orders you to stab another passenger, do you have to do it?

    (3) If indeed United was acting illegally, what is the liability of the police for violently enforcing an illegal crew member command? These were not beat cops, but rather specialized aviation police. Therefore, an argument could be made that they should have investigated this further before resorting to force, acting almost like agents of United.

    It will be interesting to see what kind of legal precedent may be set here.

  37. This stupid Republic Airlines disaster has caused me $2,000 today already as a UAL shareholder. What a scam and over reaction by the market.

    Was the flight really overbooked, or booked to capacity? Overbooking is a good thing.

    Besides the common cop, who’s to blame, operations center at Republic for making the decision to move the crew to SDF?

    Why not chuck them on AA Eagle if that was an option?

    This is so retarded.

  38. Let me start by saying this may be, perhaps likely is, a situation that has not been addressed sufficiently in case law for anyone to know what the answer is.

    For example, does it matter whether the passenger is on board or not? One can argue that being denied boarding is not materially different than being boarded and then asked to deplane. Either way you don’t get to take the flight for which you are holding a confirmed reservation.

    On the other hand the issue here is not whether UA had an obligation to carry the passenger but whether they were within their rights to demand that police authorities use their powers to forcibly remove a passenger from the airplane. For that to be permissible the passenger would have had to commit a crime. Refusing to follow crews instructions is not automatically a crime. Those instructions would have to be lawful. It is not clear that demanding a customer to leave an aircraft to accommodate another passenger is a lawful instruction.

    Here is an example that might help illustrate the point. You hold tickets to see the play Hamilton. You are admitted to the theater and a few minutes before the play is scheduled to start the manager comes up to you and demands you leave. The reason is that some of the producer’s friends have unexpectedly come into town and he want them to see the show so he is giving them your seats. Are you committing a crime if you refuse to give up your seats?

  39. Hi, Lucky:

    Thank you very much for pointing this out, I totally agreed with you it is refusal to transport, not boarding. UA did it illegally.

  40. IANAL, but re your headline: I don’t think anything UA did was “illegal.” The plane was their property (well, their contractor’s property) and they have every right to decide who gets to be on it.

    However, UA and the passenger had a contract, and the question is whether UA violated it. That is a civil legal matter. Breaking your contractual obligations is not the same as breaking the law.

    Finally, there’s the question of whether the police should have been involved. The police often enforce contracts, and that’s particularly the case with trespassing. Think of landlords evicting tenants, who, if they remain on the premises after being told to leave, are trespassing. The landlord often calls the cops or the sheriff to have the former tenants removed. I don’t think this is much different.

    Having said all of that, I am in no way defending either UA or the aviation police.

  41. @Steve:
    “Here is an example that might help illustrate the point. You hold tickets to see the play Hamilton. You are admitted to the theater and a few minutes before the play is scheduled to start the manager comes up to you and demands you leave. The reason is that some of the producer’s friends have unexpectedly come into town and he want them to see the show so he is giving them your seats. Are you committing a crime if you refuse to give up your seats?”

    That’s a good question. I’d love for a real lawyer to chime in with the answer. I think if the theater owner decides he doesn’t want you in his theater for any reason, he can ask you to leave, and if you don’t he can call the cops and ask them to remove you. I could be wrong, but I think all of that is perfectly legal.

    However, when you bought the ticket, you and the theater had an agreement that you would be allowed to see the show. The theater violated that agreement, so there are legal repercussions – you could sue them for breach of contract.

  42. At least this guy wasn’t a brown guy. I’m sure the department of transport and United would just hush it up claiming it was due to fresh security intelligence rather than actually seeing the facts that this man was manhandled illegally by a bunch of gung ho cops under the instruction of a clueless United official.

  43. So to use a slippery slope UA no longer need offer any $$, just alert police and free up as many seats as necessary for operational reasons? That sound correct.

  44. Why do Americans put up with this crap? I’m so glad to be living within the European Union. People are only asking legal terms NOW?

    EU rules on passenger rights are black & white. That’s why airlines and most industries, in the eyes of the EU, should never self-regulate, otherwise you’ll have to rely on twitter mobs for justice.

    Immigrants actually want to immigrate into that country? Americans can keep it.

  45. We saw a lot of jokes on this blog about Air India pilots refusing to fly because particular crew were not on board. No jokes about UA pilot refusing to fly till his buddies got last minute seats?

    People should start booking fully refundable United Airlines flights and no showing and refunding it. When UA is flying half empty planes they wont have a problem with IDBs. Some of the arrogant Pilots and FAs and GAs may lose their jobs in the resulting cutbacks. Well couldn’t happen to nicer people.

  46. “H.Safety – Whenever refusal or removal of a Passenger may be necessary for the safety of such Passenger or other Passengers or members of the crew including, but not limited to:
    2.Passengers who fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew, federal regulations, or security directives;

  47. @ snic – I think you’re probably right. However, you can be legally “right”, but morally and ethically wrong (e. g. Jim Crow). Could United legally remove this man? Probably. Were they in breach of contract? Probably. Were they morally and ethically right? No way.

  48. It wasn’t Rule 25 or Rule 21, it was Rule 24–force majeure, scheduling/equipment.

    UA tried to save money by using the wrong reason and now it’s going to cost them big time.

  49. @Miguel– agree completely; Legal and ethical don’t always coincide. Regardless of UA was in the right legally, they were in the wrong ethically.
    And that response by the CEO was ungracious, to put it very very mildly.

  50. “snic says:
    April 11, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    IANAL, but re your headline: I don’t think anything UA did was “illegal.” The plane was their property (well, their contractor’s property) and they have every right to decide who gets to be on it.

    However, UA and the passenger had a contract, and the question is whether UA violated it. That is a civil legal matter. Breaking your contractual obligations is not the same as breaking the law.

    Finally, there’s the question of whether the police should have been involved. The police often enforce contracts, and that’s particularly the case with trespassing. Think of landlords evicting tenants, who, if they remain on the premises after being told to leave, are trespassing. The landlord often calls the cops or the sheriff to have the former tenants removed. I don’t think this is much different.

    Having said all of that, I am in no way defending either UA or the aviation police.”

    ^^^^^ THIS

  51. I fly I travel-California RJs frequently. Because of weights-and-balances, it happens on 12-15 of my flights a year that pax (already boarded) are then asked to deplane.

  52. Doesn’t matter. You always obey orders from law enforcement. Settle this out later in terms of compensation or legal action. United was in the wrong game but so was he passenger for not complying with law enforcement. PERIOD.

  53. That was supposed to read “intra-California” RJs ….

    Why won’t this site allow us to edit???? Grrrrr!

  54. On a positive note, it is amazing how this incident has gone viral. It’s on TV, it’s on the front page of the New York Times, and it’s reached Wall Street, with UAL shares tanking this morning. Money talks and I bet Munoz et al are listening. It’s a great example of the power of social media.

    Plus, all

  55. The response by Munoz is also unacceptable, which is why the stock is down. He is in real jeopardy now because it demonstrates extremely poor executive judgement to respond the way he did. It is not rocket science, there is ample history of the textbook way to respond to these situations…you apologize profusely. You don’t stand by your thuggery.

  56. @ND

    This is an incorrect interpretation of the Rule and any lawyer will tell you as such. Their refusal of transport occurred irregardless of section H:

    “H. Whenever refusal or removal of a Passenger may be necessary for the safety of such Passenger or other Passengers or members of the crew including, but not limited to: Passengers who fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew, federal regulations, or security directives;”

    Specifically per the agent and Munoz’s own email they decided to pick 4 people at random to deplane which again is in violation of UA’s own CoC IDB procedure. This in turn means that Rule 21’s Refusal of Transport’s subclause H does not come into effect because the passenger is already seated, non aggressive and non threatening upon being informed that he would be deplaned. If taken to court I don’t think this argument would stand.

  57. @snic a property owners right to evict you from his premises is not absolute. There is an enormous amount of case law on this issue particularly with regards to malls where courts have come to the conclusion that an owner cannot unilaterally eject people at will.

    I think the issue of whether the theater, or airplane owner, can have the police remove you hinges on whether you have committing a crime by remaining. If not, then its a civil matter and the police have no basis for becoming involved.

    United does not have a legal right to have invoke police power to operate their airline. The police can only get involved under specific circumstances. Whether this passengers actions met the test for the police to take action is the question and one that we don’t know the answer to and won’t know the answer to until the courts have weighed in on the matter. However just because United would like to get somebody off one of their airplanes so they can put someone else on doesn’t necessarily mean they have the right to invoke police powers to make it happen. It might be that the courts will decide if airline personnel board more people than the aircraft can accommodate their options are limited to voluntarily inducing enough passengers to leave or if they are unable to accomplish that to simply cancel the flight.

    Speaking for myself I think that would not be a not unreasonably decision. The airline will have had amply opportunity to IDB the passengers in question before they boarded. Having failed to do that it doesn’t seem unreasonable that they then must offer sufficient incentive for someone to leave. It seems pretty reasonable that an airline can forbid you from boarding (and if you try have you arrested) but if they instruct and allow you to board they can’t call the cops to drag you off merely because they want your seat for someone else. They have to get someone to agree voluntarily. Their ultimate threat should be if no one takes them up on their offer, they cancel the flight and both sides lose.

    Of course, airlines would have to pay more when they screw up and board too many passengers if they can’t drag them off but I’m not aware of any other businesses that can use the police to enforce breaching their contractual obligations so why an airline should have this privilege isn’t clear to me.

    But that’s just my take on it and we’ll have to see how the courts weigh in.

  58. The issue: When is “boarding” complete?

    The customers who do use United now are going to be extremely meek, especially in Chicago.

  59. Ironic that all of this was just an attempt to save a few thousand dollars. They could have upped the offer of actual cash to the point that four passengers agreed to be rebooked. They could have paid AA to fly the crew members on the slightly later Eagle flight instead of flying them for free on Republic. I’m guessing that there are inter airline agreements to fly crew for a greatly reduced price rather than last minute retail fare.

    But they went cheap, and it’s costing them many millions in stock price.

    What’s getting too little mention is the horrible PR ramifications. How many people will now choose to fly another airline out of fear of being thrown off the plane they bought tickets for whenever it suits the airline to do so?

  60. @Charlie

    “It wasn’t Rule 25 or Rule 21, it was Rule 24–force majeure, scheduling/equipment.”

    Fraid not even then, Rule 24 applies to flight cancellations. This situation wasn’t a flight delay, reschedule or cancellation.


    Like I said in other posts elsewhere in OMAAT, UA’s lawyers are likely having a collective aneurysm right now thanks to Munoz’s email exacerbating the issue which could have been quietly resolved by leaving it at as a “We are seriously investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident and are in talks with the passenger, crew and aviation police in question. A statement will be issued at the soonest possible moment once all details have been confirmed”. Nice sweet and noncommittal but explaining that action is taking place. Everyone expects giant corporations to be slow to move but move they must. UA’s response on twitter and Munoz’s own email I wonder if it even got parsed through the legal team or if it was just sent out via the PR team after OPs had heard what happened?

  61. @hybrid:

    No this part is very clear:

    ” Passengers who fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew”

    “fail to comply”

  62. Boarding is a process that takes place between the first passenger entering the plane and closing the door, at which point the plane is considered “in flight” and the captain takes over from the ground crew. It is likely that a passenger can be denied boarding at any point during that process.

  63. @Munoz Docter: Are you one of United’s PR people? You’re certainly not making a good case for UA in this case. What the passenger’s occupation, history, sexual preferences, etc. are has no bearing as to what happened.

    UA ultimately used violence (getting the police involved in the USA is almost always a violent act) to create open seats for its staff rather than paying passengers fair compensation for being bumped.

  64. How were they not offering fair compensation for being bumped? They offered $800, a hotel room, and the next available flight. For the doctor and his wife that would have been $1600. And it is likely that the needed seats were to avoid having to cancel another flight due to a lack of crew which would inconvenience who knows how many hundreds of other people.

  65. @Derek Jones: So if a crewmember asks a person to do something disgusting / immoral, the passenger should do it blindly? Keep in mind, as the Federal Law is written, you must OBEY the flight crew, no matter what. If they tell a rape victim she needs to disrobe and sit naked on the filthy seat, by federal law, she must do that. NOT a good precedent to set. Just because something is law doesn’t make it right. Likewise, just because someone in a position of authority says you should do something doesn’t mean you should.

  66. I think the point United and its employees are missing is the fact that the flight crew made no attempt to get to work on their own or by other means. They knew they had to be at their destination for the flight the next morning, they assumed the flight wouldn’t be full and they assumed wrong. We all travel to work and make our own way to our employment, unfortunately United employees seem incapable of doing the same.
    Now United are trying blame the passenger on their employees lack of transportation skills.

  67. ” Passengers who fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew”

    You assume that the duties of the members of the flight crew are remove passengers who are holding tickets for a confirmed reservations, have a boarding pass and are sitting in their seats not being disruptive so that the airline can give those seats to someone else. That has not yet been decided and I suspect will be part of any litigation.

    As numerous people have pointed out the authority of a flight crew is not unlimited. It’s broad, but has limits. Ordering a passenger off an aircraft solely because the airline wants your seat back may exceed those limits.

    Keep in mind that citizens have the legal right to refuse to comply with any police officers order that is not legal. The trick is, you have to be right that it wasn’t a legal order. There is a lot of case law regarding this. Here’s a nice summary of how it works…


    So yes, you can refuse to follow the orders of a cabin crew and if you are later deemed within your rights for having done so no crime has been committed and if you were arrested, or removed or whatever by a police officer that action exceeded their authority. This passenger decided to take that course of action and now we have a test case should the matter go to court.

    But to everyone who says you have to follow any order of a police officer, or flight crew, that’s just not true. What is true is that if you don’t then there likely will be immediate consequences whether that order was legal or not. That’s were this situation is at. We’ll all have to wait to see what the courts decide to know if United’s decision to ask the police pull him off the plane and the police’s decision to agree to do so way legal or not.

    Stay tuned everybody.

  68. @Lucky

    Thanks for re-thinking your views on this…
    A lot of us have been troubled by this aspect. “He was boarded correctly, so how can it be an IDB case?”

    I, for one, hope a legal case is built here, as we’re long past time to re-visit how these one-sided Contracts of Carriage can legally be used to abuse so many passengers every year in so many egregious ways.

    Thanks again!

  69. @snic

    You may be the one of the stupidest commenters here. No, the owner of premises or a plane does not have some broad right to to remove someone who has paid for the right to occupy a portion of the premises or the plane. Otherwise, a landlord could bar a rent paying tenant’s entry to a leasehold.

    Of course, the scope of a theater goer’s right to a seat, or a passenger’s right to a seat, or a tenant’s right to occupy leased premises may be limited by the language of a very, very, long set of terms and conditions. But as a general manner, selling the right to occupy ends the owner’s right to remove the buyer.

  70. THIS.

    I have always been told by people familiar with these things NEVER EVER give up your seat.

    Possession of a seat with your butt firmly planted has always been the test of whether a person has right to be there. Prior to being in the seat a person pretty much has no right to expect to leave on a plane, ship or other transport. In legal terms the contract that you have with the airline changes once you are in your seat. Before you get to that seat it’s always a denied boarding issue.

    to my mind the passenger was very much within their rights to NOT get out of the seat. As we can see these days at Airports tactics are used that would make the Gestapo blush.

  71. @Prabuddha:
    “@Brad Cause and effect cannot be reversed. A person caanot be ejected for being rude if the only reason he was being rude was the Airline was trying to eject him illegally. What if a cop walks up to you and starts beating you and then when you defend yourself you are arrested for assaulting an officer of the law and the cops beating you is considered necessary force for arresting a suspect accused of assaulting a officer of the law? Till the Captain has a valid reason to ask him to leave, asking him to leave is not legal. Not allowing him on was legal but once he is on there has to be a valid reason for him to leave (someone mistakenly though he was a security threat) or he has BO. Not having enough seats to fly some deadbeat pilots who turned up late for a flight is not a valid reason. And these deadbeats obviously could have flown the AA flight 30 minutes later if they were able to fly this flight 3 hrs later. They just thought they would get away with it.”

    I don’t know what rock you’ve been living under, but striking a police officer that is ‘beating’ you is absolutely a felony. Depending on whether others consider the beating justified you may or may not be charged/tried, but you absolutely could be. And yes, you can absolutely be arrested for resisting arrest with no other charge. As others have said, United trying to remove a passenger from its plane might be a civil breach of its contract of carriage and having the police involved to inforce that might become a criminal charge (though that’s doubtful). But resisting a police officer trying to remove you from private property is absolutely illegal. Public property is certainly a different story. The proper course here would be to go with the police and contest being removed afterwards.

    That being said, I only minimally fault the guy and there’s no way I’d try and stand up for United or the police in this case. Personally I have a history of doing things not the proper way just to highlight the stupidity of the situation. But I go into that knowing good and well that there might be a cost I pay for it.

  72. This has to be the policy of United Airlines. IF you are randomly kicked off the plane after making reservations and paying ahead of time, you are reaccomodated in this fashion: 1) You get NO refund 2) No alternative flight 3) Put on United Airlines’ ‘No Fly’ list IF you have ANY consumer complaint filed. This IS the way the Airline becomes more profitable at the expense of customer service when overbooked. They have NO policy for substitutions or ANY recourse.

  73. United has now officially weighed in on this topic and they, of course, believe the general status of the flight as “in the boarding process” is what is determinative, not each passenger:

    According to Axios, with the quote attributed to United Senior Spokesman Jonathan Guerin:
    The passenger had boarded the plane, right? Wrong: The flight “was technically still in the boarding process because the door had not closed.” This matters because the contract says passengers can be “denied boarding” in Oversold situations.


  74. @Derek Jones

    The request/order to deplane was given by the gate agent not the the crew member. Legal nuance but important nuance. You’re specific quote said:

    ” Passengers who fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew”

    What duty did the seated passenger who was not doing anything PRIOR to the order to deplane by said gate agent interfere with? Again legal nuance but rather critical one. You cannot use a circular argument to say that order is justified, a court would toss that argument out in a heartbeat as other lawyers who have elsewhere said. The gate agent in this case would not be considered crew as well. This whole scenario is basically UA’s to screw up and they are falling into hook line and sinker.

  75. I am neither police or a lawyer but I have called in police in matters of property dispute and what puzzles me in this issue is the instructions provided to police for the removal. In my experience, there is no rush to a conclusion.–certainly no rush to pull a person like that shown in the video. There is usually a bunch of questions about what is going on, who is breaking what law, what happened and why and some calls to figure out the next step. If it was me, I would want some indication that Joe Blow was in fact doing something wrong before laying a hand on him. Now, if someone gave the police an incorrect summary of the issue then I can see them taking charge for someone who is unruly, drunk or a threat. But, as a police officer, would I start yanking someone out just because UA oversold? I don’t think so. I’d probably go suggest they up the ante and buy someone out and save everyone a lot of grief. I wonder what the instructions give to police and what it appears there was little discussion before the assault took place. If that had been a mother and child, would the results have been different? The whole incident makes little sense so I can only assume there is more to the story. Frankly, if three guys with blue jeans came up to me and started yanking me out of my seat I’d probably throw punches too.

  76. UAL decided to allow the passenger to board at the gate. The passenger boarded. And then UAL changed its mind at the last minute.

  77. @Kevin Special rules apply to regional jets with less than 50 passengers. In those jets its always a better idea to volunteer if you have a cheap ticket as they can bump you citing weight and balance with no compensation. However this was a 70 person jet and the standard rules of IDB apply. Which are once you are on board and seated you can no longer be denied boarding. The Airline is free to cancel the flight and then rebook everyone but you on a new flight (using same plane and crew) but they cant deboard only you. Ultimately United did deboard everyone so they did cover their a** from that perspective. As a practical matter people just play along. Its like traffic tickets. A traffic ticket is only an accusation and if you contest it at trial 90% times its dismissed. Most people dont as its not worth their time. Kudos to the doctor for his non violent protest against an unfair system. This is precisely what Gandhi and Mandela did. If you want to be unfair you will have to use violence and be the villain , you will not get your way just by threatening violence. Now due to the sacrifice of this man (and by sacrifice I mean not just the physical injury but also the smear campaign UA is going to run against him) IDB rules may get changed to be more fair.

  78. Paul M, that’s the point. The airlines have managed to turn every instruction they issue into a command that must be obeyed as a matter of law. Fail to obey, and they call the cops, who believing they are doing what is right, take action.

    This incident sheds a bright light on this and hopefully will foster an examination of what is and is not a matter where the police can invoke their powers. Airlines have threatened passenger with arrest for all manner of infractions, including taking pictures of their staff in the airport even though the person was standing in an area outside the area they leased.

    Airlines can threaten all they want. That in itself may, or may not, be a crime, but it’s up to the police to know when they should and should not take action. A citizen is within their rights to refuse to comply with an unlawful request by a police officers. A police officer has an even higher duty to know when they must refuse an unlawful request by a citizen (or corporation which are synthetic individuals).

    It may yet turn out that the courts decide that United was within their rights to ask the police to remove the passenger and the police were acting property when they agreed to do so (how they did so is a different matter) but that is the issue that needs to be decided.

    Up until now the assumption has been, as many commenters have stated, that you are required to comply with all order a crew gives you and that an airline has broad power to remove you from an aircraft for any reason they choose. I hope that is not the conclusion the courts come to as it seems unnecessarily biased in favor of the airlines. The carriers have numerous options when it comes to overbooking. They can not overbook. They can overbook and offer larger incentives to volunteer. They can make sure not to board an entire plane and hold a few passengers back until they know they have no passenger how haven’t been accommodated but whom they absolutely must get on the airplane. Should all these measures fail they can offer larger incentives for a passenger to disembark and if that fails, they can simply cancel the flight rather than take the position a passenger who refuses to leave a seat that he has paid for and is occupying is breaking the law when he won’t go.

    The law is about balance. For two long in reaction to 9/11 the airlines have taken advantage of the public’s fear of attack to tip the scale in favor of themselves in matter of business unrelated to safety or security. But this is the way of the world and why we have an independent judiciary. If it were otherwise then UA and the other carriers could use their money and power to obtain the result they want in court. That’s the way it works in many other countries. That this isn’t the way it works in the US is something we should all be proud of and strive to protect and preserve even when the decision a court comes to isn’t one we agree with.

    No politics here. Just a strong respect for how important it is to have a forum where both sides get to tell their story and someone who is bright, knowledgeable and impartial renders what they feels is the right decision about what to do.

  79. @ Fletch F Fletch — As others have mentioned, $800 in vouchers is nowhere near the equivalent of $800 in cash. Many people fly only rarely and cannot use vouchers before the expiration date, so vouchers are essentially worthless to many. Everyone has their price, and I’m guessing that steadily-increasing offers of *cash* would have ultimately motivated volunteers. If United’s computer system disallows that kind of auction process, then United needs to revisit their systems.

  80. Lucky,

    I think it’s important to note that until the main cabin door is closed, the flight is for all intents and purposes, still in the boarding phase. You’re right that this is a very abnormal situation in considering the fact that technically this was not an oversold flight, but even still the airline has a right to refuse service just as any business entity would. The airlines are also afforded larger protections because of the nature of their business either way.

  81. I was under the impression that Overbooking procedures and refusal of transport can continue until the plane begins to taxi at which point you become an official passenger? Also if you read the CoC there is a bunch of “not limited to” and “can be changed at any time without notification to passengers”. Seems like no obvious criminal wrongdoing other than the passenger with his prohibiting the flight crew from performing their duties?

  82. The entire argument you linked is based around the fact that they “don’t see anything that clarifies how they define ‘denied boarding.'” in the Department of Transportation regulations. He says in United’s Contract of Carriage, “The contract of carriage lists a bunch of reasons that the airline can refuse transport to someone, though a flight being oversold after a passenger has boarded isn’t one of them.”

    If the writer was to scroll down to rule 25 in United’s Contract of Carriage, the opening line explicitly says: “Denied Boarding (U.S.A./Canadian Flight Origin) – When there is an Oversold UA flight that originates in the U.S.A. or Canada, the following provisions apply:…”

  83. Donald Trump has issued an invitation to Kim Jong-un to fly United to the USA. He has been issued an Galaxy S-7 to communicate while on board. It is also rumoured that he will be welcomed by LAX US Immigration officers for a courtesy internal compliance search. President Trump replied when asked to comment “God bless America and nobody else!”. Spicer was Aghast.

  84. I think the point is what’s the reason for deplane. If the doctor is a real safety
    threat, he should be removed even after boarding. But let’s assume there were no deadheads, will he be removed? No!So the reason to remove him is to make space for deadhead. Is this acceptable? Legal? this is not about under which terms he can be removed, it’s about under which terms he can be REPLACED by someone else!

    I also disagree that caption is the king and you do what he or she says. Next time, a caption may say “I want you to get off to make space for my uncle”, what will you do?

    If this doctor is not suitable to take this flight, why the other deadheads are?

  85. The legal civil way would be for UAL to take the passenger to court to sue for civil damages (losses to UAL for refusal to give paid seat to an employee) Rather than employ security goons to enforce their “contract of carriage”.

  86. I did a little bit of looking into the so-called police that violently pulled this passenger of the plane. It turns out that they’re not members of any law enforcement agency at all. Their not permitted to be armed and have no arrest authority. They work for a private security company called Global Elete Group that contracts with ORD. Essentially that they’re little more than mall cops. Probably why they’re dressed in jeans.

    In fact, this company is advertising for “Part Time” Aviation Security Agents right now (pays $10.50/Hr.). Their minimum qualifications consist of little more than a high school diploma (or G.E.D.), a security guard license, and be able to pass a background test. Oh, and be willing and able to lift up to 50 lbs, I guess for those instances when a ticketed and boarded passenger needs to be forcibly dragged from their seat. I see some posters making the argument that the airlines probably violated their COC but didn’t commit a crime. In light of the fact the was conducted by private security and not bona fide law enforcement makes a world of difference and does make it a crime -assault and battery.

  87. Interesting point #1: Chicago Aviation Security Officers are employed by the City of Chicago (not a private company) are not armed, except with a baton and handcuffs, and are not actual police officers (permitted to do investigations and carry firearms 24/7) even though they are required to be trained in the Chicago Police Academy and are required to be firearms qualified. While their agency refers to them as peace officers (peace officers fulfill all the regular police duties, but can’t do investigations-some of them may carry firearms depending on their agency), and they do enforce laws on the airport grounds, the State Labor Relations Board has not determined that they hold peace officer status and they are not all “sworn in”. In other words, their actual legal authority is very confusing. (In New York State, there’s an actual list of agencies with peace officers…)

    As an aside, if you were the airport, as a general rule you’d rather have non-peace officers because if they are not agents of the state, then they don’t have to worry about protecting people’s constitutional rights (except the airport is owned by the City, so that’s moot)-you can detain and eject from private property, and make citizen’s arrests.

  88. Not a fan of the victim blaming and posting his life story. It’s totally and completely 100% irrelevant. I even know a person in law enforcement who said the treatment was ok because of his history. It does not matter 1 iota if he did a crime or many crimes 20 years ago and dealt with it through the legal system and it’s closed. If we’re lowering the bar to any violence or beatings by security or police being ok if a person ever committed a crime at any point in their life (including if the penalty/fine/etc. has been served in full and closed)…that’s definitely Orwellian territory. He’s a full legal member of society currently so anything in his past has nothing to do with what happened. And he did not act belligerently or violently in any way that I saw on the videos to justify his treatment, especially to a 69 year-old.

    As for whether it counts as being denied transport or boarding, my guess is that the language legally leans in favor of the airline being able to remove at their discretion. It will probably be one suit against United and another against the aviation security, along with possibly the airport depending if they are responsible for the security. A large win vs. the aviation security company/airport seems like a slam dunk, but the United one will be much tougher.

  89. @lucky – The provisions of 14 CFR 250 effectively define “denied boarding” as “relinquishing (of) confirmed reserved space”. There is no specific requirement for this to have occurred before or after the physical entry onto the aircraft.

    The principal difference between “Denial of Boarding” and “Refusal of Transport” is that the latter is an action taken for cause and does not give rise to an entitlement of statutory compensation, alternate transportation and the other relevant provisions of the former.

    Full disclosure : I have been personally involved with a legal dispute (in a different jurisdiction) which dealt with a similar issue. In that case though, the passenger was the one who assaulted the airline employee (myself) and tried to justify his actions on the basis that the instruction given was unlawful and therefore he had the right to resist using force if necessary. The prosecuting authorities disagreed and the passenger eventually accepted a lesser plea bargain of disorderly conduct rather than assault and interference with a flight crew.

  90. If this had happened on an Asian carrier, the airline employees involved would’ve lost their jobs. The unions are too strong in the US so passengers are treated worse than dogs like in this instance.

  91. @Captain Obvious

    Rule 25 does not deal with already seated passengers.

    Rule 21 provides very specific reasons for removing a passenger and removing someone for overbooking is NOT one of those reasons. Rule 21 does not apply. Yes, disobeying an order is one of those, but the order MUST BE LEGAL and have a valid reason, such as safety. The courts upheld time and time again no one – not even the military need obey an unlawful order.

    As for misbehavior / being upset, etc., under rule 21 the crew couldn’t make him violate it without their being criminally and civilly liable for their actions. No jury would find him guilty given the actions taken by the crew. At a minimum you’d get mistrial after mistrial and at the most a not-guilty verdict.

    Finally, United Airlines agreed, in writing, with the FAA in 2013 (+/- 1) to not deny paying customers a seat. This occurred during the time the FAA was considering new regulations about overbooking. United said it wasn’t necessary, as it would never, ever, deny boarding to a paying customer. Thus a paying customer in their seat would be part of this agreement. Violation of this agreement would be grounds for FAA sanction, fines, or even criminal charges (e.g. lying).

  92. What about the patients of the doctor? I don’t know his area, but if say he’s a specialized surgeon and someone died waiting for him to operate or because of the delay can’t have some live saving surgery (e.g. would be too weak).

    IMHO, some news agency should do a story on the harm, if any, to his patients.

  93. That United has not referred to the Contract of Carriage at all in the past two days is illustrative…you might recall that they banged the Contract Drum relentlessly in the recent “leggings” incident…instead, the CEO’s first reaction was to label the passenger as “belligerent” (presumably as justification for the muscle needed to “re-accommodate” him)…now, after a stock price dip on Tuesday (and likely on the advice of counsel who themselves have likely reacquainted themselves with the Contract of Carriage), the CEO says has issued an ACTUAL apology and said that customer was not to blame…simply put: the gate personnel in Chicago were so hell-bent on getting those 4 on THAT flight (never mind that there was one more to Louisville that evening) that they told the passengers that the “plane would not leave until the crew has seats” and brought in muscle to finish the job when – surprise – threatening passengers with not moving the plane didn’t get them all the seats they need…

    Sorry…this is ALL on the airline and its employees…

  94. It’s been established that this was not an overbooking situation. It was a situation of the need to transport a flight crew, which (IANAL) I understand is a federally regulated requirement to prevent a cancelled plane at the destination, which falls under 21-B.

  95. Ummm…..NONE of these “rules” are laws. These rules are created by United. If United wants to “break” their own rules and contract, then that’s a great path for a lawsuit. However, United STILL reserves the right to ask anyone, for any reason to leave the plane. It’s not a great business practice, but it’s not illegal either.

  96. @I. B. Halliwell

    He’s not a specialized surgeon, according to many mainstream media reports, he is a pill jockey who only just got his license to practice back after trading prescriptions for sex. More so, he is on restrictions and has no hospital privilege.

    Assuming this doctor is who they say his is, the affect would be, some opiate junkie didn’t get a fix.

  97. unfortunately this happens. sometimes the flight will be boarded full, and a federal air marshal will show up demanding a first class seat. airlines can’t turn the FAM down, so someone will have to give up a seat, even if involuntarily.

  98. Ben,
    1. This will be a chapter in future business school classes. I remember J&J with
    2. It does not matter the Dr’s past records. Even a former convicted criminal.
    Does not matter nor should it matter. His behaviour was orderly. United’s was
    not. Smear tactics are low, but even so, they won’t be effective in this case.
    3. Lots of legal arguments. Bottom line, its America, you have to pay for
    something. In this case, United needed to pay and chose not. Now they will
    pay much more, a lesson for them and Mr Munoz.
    4. Its no longer the America where the longshoreman strike and the boss calls
    the police to beat them up. That is where Americans will not accept this
    behaviour from a corporation.

  99. Rule 21 refusal of transport
    Force Majeure and Other Unforeseeable Conditions – Whenever such action is necessary or advisable by reason of weather or other conditions beyond UA’s control including, but not limited to, acts of God, force majeure, strikes, civil commotions, embargoes, wars, hostilities, terrorist activities, or disturbances, whether actual, threatened, or reported.

  100. There is no federal law that says you must obey all flight crew commands. 49 U.S. Code § 46504 is limited in scope and only applies after the doors are closed and during flight (Special Aircraft Jurisdiction). The law does not mention obeying commands, it simply bars you from assaulting flight crew or interfering with the duties of the flight crew. For safety matters, interfering is construed broadly, of course, but this was not a safety issue, just a financial issue for United.

    In this case, the doors were still open, so the federal law does not apply. At this point, the aircraft was governed by local law. United has already admitted that passenger was picked randomly for removal and not for cause, so crew interference is not an issue.

    The Contract of Carriage does not include any general right to terminate the contract without cause (unlike many consumer contracts). It was not technically an overbooking situation and the passenger had a contractual right to the seat. Crew movement is under full United control and there were several other options for the crew to make it in time, so Force Majeure is a stretch.

    49 U.S. Code § 46504 – Interference with flight crew members and attendants: “An individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined….”
    1405. Special Aircraft Jurisdiction of the United States “….An aircraft is “in flight” from the moment when all external doors are closed following embarkation until the moment when one such door is opened for disembarkation, or in the case of a forced landing, until competent authorities take responsibility for the aircraft….”

  101. The optics are horrid and it will take a long time for UA to recover (even tho stocks are back up again today). This will become a text book model of what NOT to do … and how NOT to respond.

    That notwithstanding, I support UA 100%.

    I believe they had to right, under whatever broad terms of the contract or CFR, to ask one or more pax to leave the aircraft.

    The blame is with the good doctor. Had he followed staff instructions, he would have (un-)vountarily given up his seat or he would have been one of the unlucky 4 selected by lottery.

    Then, when the cops were called, he escalated by still refusing to leave the aircraft. As is often seen with protesters who go limp, they will be carried off.

    Although I have seen various videos from various angles, I never saw the beating that has been referred to so often. Yet, obviously, he was really injured and was bleeding. Was it such a rough extraction???

    Maybe the cops could have been less forceful … but the whole thing started when the doctor refused to give up his seat.

  102. I haven’t read all these comments yet, but you might find my 12-page discussion at
    http://rasmusen.org/papers.united.pdf useful. I wrote it up for my students, since I’m an econ professor who does a lot of law. Two facts which are not as well known as they should be:
    1. The contract requires United to pay 4 times the fare value in compensation for bumping, and United didn’t offer that much.
    2. FAA regulations require airlines to seat as many passengers with reservations as is feasible, which means employees come last in line after the paying customers.

    It remains an interesting question as to whether if it were a simple overbooking case a passenger could be removed from an airplane. I would think so: what would happen if an airline mistakenly let 101 passengers board an airplane with only 100 seats? Would it have to fly them all, in violation of FAA regulations?

  103. Your argument here is like our subject’s ill-fated trip to Louisville… it doesn’t quite get you there.

    Refusal of transport is a device by which an airline can deny to transport a passenger regardless of the capacity of it to carry.

    This is very different from “denied boarding.” The fact that United could have deplaned all the passengers and then reinitiated the boarding process, thereby allowing it to then deny boarding as the flight was then overbooked means that the fact the passengers were on the plane at the time the plane became overbooked is just incidental, not important.

    Here’s the questions needed to answer to support my conclusion:

    1) Does the airline have the right to require all passengers to deplane? As masters of their little corporate fiefdom, they sure do.airlines do this with a regularity (although not often) for a host of reasons.

    2) Once the passengers have deplaned, are they considered boarded? No. Passengers would be required to again produce their boarding pass, during the boarding process.

    United will pay a big price in the court of public opinion. This price will lead to certain changes, possibly very high in the management chain (think the JetBlue “massacre”) and will cost them millions in unearned revenues.

    So, I think your legal argument fails spectacularly, and unlike United, I’m not going to pay you $800 to try again tomorrow.

  104. I have read most of the UAL FAA and DOT regulations concerning the issue. As many have stated there are no rules governing “Denied boarding” after a passenger is already on the plane. BUT, all passengers are “given notice”, through UAL, DOT and FAA rules governing Voluntary and Involuntary boarding. Ignorance to the law or regulations is no excuse. Common sense was not used by the passenger. No law or regulations protects a passenger from being Involuntarily bumped from a flight once he boards. There are laws and regulations that govern a passengers demeanor on an aircraft. The passenger should have accepted his fate and left the aircraft with compensation. There should be legislation developed to change or add to these regulations so this type of incidents will not happen in the future.

  105. Actually the boarding process doesn’t end until the cabin door is closed. You can be denied boarding at any time during the boarding process, even if you are already in your seat. In addition if the plane captain orders you off the plane you have to get off. There is no argument. At the point you refuse you are trespassing, even if you have a ticket.

  106. Okay, Rule 24.A.3

    Schedules are Subject To Change Without Notice – Times shown on tickets, timetables, published schedules or elsewhere, and aircraft type and similar details reflected on tickets or UA’s schedule are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract. UA may substitute alternate carriers or aircraft, delay or cancel flights, and alter or omit stopping places or connections shown on the ticket at any time. UA will promptly provide Passengers the best available information regarding known delays, cancellations, misconnections and diversions, but UA is not liable for any misstatements or other errors or omissions in connection with providing such information. No employee, agent or representative of UA can bind UA legally by reason of any statements relating to flight status or other information. Except to the extent provided in this Rule, UA shall not be liable for failing to operate any flight according to schedule, or for any change in flight schedule, with or without notice to the passenger.

    So they could simply say HIS flight was rescheduled, and he was on the wrong flight. Done and done.

  107. You can’t lay a hand on a person, that’s assault. If the passenger was under arrest then that’s a different matter. I would not get up either unless a police office said I was under arrest otherwise I’m not moving and nobody is touching me.

    This nonsense about being “random” is really silly. We all know there is an algorithm written by people on how to select. Random would say everyone on that flight had an equal chance of being selected and we know that won’t include a person needing a wheelchair, mother with infant, first class, execs of United and a few other untouchables.

    Most likely it was a handler outside saying this fellow’s bag was closest to being removed so he’s our random selection. But you can’t lay your hands on him. Arrest him but it has to be a lawful arrest. UAL is screwed on this one. Good for the passenger to yell and grab attention and video. it was the smartest thing I think he could do under pressure. I just wish ten pax had dropped their pens and blocked the aisle looking under seats to prevent the drag. Now, that would have been a video!

  108. @Roger- clearly in this situation, common sense was not used by the United staff and procedures. It’s much harder to get someone out of a seat than to deny them boarding in the first place. I also have read the CoC, FAA and DOT regulations, and do not see anywhere defined that denied boarding can happen after you have boarded.

    Certainly, the airlines could have requested everyone to deboard, then deny on reentry. But I suspect that will be more difficult after this event, absent a mechanical failure, etc.

    I really don’t expect more regulations making it easier to remove the passenger from the plane as a result of this incident. Rather, I see an escalated process for getting volunteers to get off the plane by making it a shared responsibility- “Folks, this is your captain speaking- we are not leaving the gate u till we get 4 volunteers to get off the flight, so that we can get a flight crew on to fly this plane home in the morning. Please ring your call button if you are willing to accept…” and so on.

    People complain that no one volunteered to get off the plane, but it’s well documented that unless you make it a shared responsibility, people don’t respond to an individual problem. If you are being beaten in an alley, scream “fire” if you want someone to call the police.

  109. Everyone is still getting this boarded thing wrong. You are not a boarded passenger and the plane is not boarded until the door is closed or the plane is pushed from the gate. Sitting in the seat does not automatically make you boarded. It is very much an involuntary denial of boarding. Having a confirmed seat just means they had to compensate him if he volunteered.

  110. IANAL. Boarding is not complete until the aircraft door has been closed, which then goes into “in flight” status. They were still in the process of boarding, thus they can still deny “boarding” to someone already inside.

  111. How clear can this be:

    UA shall have the right to refuse to transport or shall have the right to remove from the aircraft at any point, any Passenger for the following reasons:

    Breach of Contract of Carriage – Failure by Passenger to comply with the Rules of the Contract of Carriage.

    (which, under H, 2. include)

    “Passengers who fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew, federal regulations, or security directives.”

    Telling you to get off the plane per an airline must fly accommodation (whether we agree with it or not) is part of complying with “the duties of the members of the flight crew”. Getting back on the plane after being ejected makes you doubly wrong.

    Mr Dao will get a fat payout from United, but for P.R. reasons, not legal ones. CAA will be on the hook for improper use of force.

  112. All these people talking about federal crime, yet no one posting a link to the law that says passenger must do whatever a flight attendant says.

  113. I am not sure how to properly format on this page, but I will offer this initial segment about obedience. These are from the Civil Aviation rules, Part 91.

    91.5 Compliance with crew instructions and commands

    A passenger shall comply with any commands given to them by the pilot-in- command pursuant to 91.203.

    This is about how the PIC can give any command required to maintain safety.

    91.203 Authority of the pilot-in-command
    Each pilot-in-command of an aircraft shall give any commands necessary for the safety of the aircraft and of persons and property carried on the aircraft, including disembarking or refusing the carriage of—

    (1) any person who appears to be under the influence of alcohol or any drug where, in the opinion of the pilot-in-command, their carriage is likely to endanger the aircraft or its occupants; and

    (2) any person, or any part of the cargo, which, in the opinion of the pilot-in-command, is likely to endanger the aircraft or its occupants.

    This is viewed to carry from the PIC to the FA, whether expressly or not, thru 65J below.

    This is from the 1990 Civil Aviation act. Note it does not say flight crew member, but crew member.

    65GDisruptive conduct towards crew member

    (1)Every person commits an offence who, while in an aircraft,—

    (a)uses any threatening, offensive, or insulting words towards a crew member; or

    (b)behaves in a threatening, offensive, insulting, or disorderly manner towards a crew member; or

    (c)behaves in a manner that interferes with the performance by a crew member of his or her duties; or

    (d)intentionally interferes with the performance by a crew member of his or her duties.

    (2)Every person who commits an offence against subsection (1)(a) or (b) or (c) is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000.

    Every person who commits an offence against subsection (1)(d) is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or a fine not exceeding $10,000.

    This is where we talk about delegation.

    65JNon-compliance with commands given by pilot-in-command

    (1)Every person commits an offence who fails to comply with any commands given to the person directly by the pilot-in-command, or indirectly by the pilot-in-command through a crew member, in accordance with his or her duties under section 13 or the rules.

    (2)Despite section 28(6), every person who commits an offence against subsection (1) is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000.

  114. The issue that really seems to be coming to a head is the definition of “denied boarding”. In the past, and involuntary bump has been industry accepted as the definition of “denied boarding”, whether the person has actually boarded or not. I have personally seen court cases where a person being ordered to vacate his seat and deplane was considered to have been “denied boarding” and every expert, lawyer, and judge in the courtroom just accepted that as an industry standard definition. The reality is that there is no definition for “denied boarding”, so maybe that is something good that will come out of all this. Even the law itself clearly doesn’t consider the definition of “denied boarding” to be literal. The law — 14 CFR 250.2b — does not define “denied boarding”, but it does refer to “volunteer for denied boarding.” But… how do you volunteer to be denied something? If you volunteer, then you’re not being denied anything. Clearly, some new wording and a solid definition are needed to avoid this confusion in the future. I recommend “involuntary re-booking”, which is more clear about the intent (missing the flight) and also clearly implies that the person will be transported in the future.

  115. The Division of Transport does have clear advice regarding payment as a result of fliers “unwillingly refuted boarding,” which could repay when it comes to a considerable hassle. So no matter, sector viewers claimed they were stunned the scenario unraveled the method it provided for United.

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