A doctor was dragged from a United Airlines flight Sunday after he refused to deplane an overbooked flight at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, according to accounts on social media.
The flight was headed to Louisville, Kentucky, but the airline needed to bump four passengers to make room for its flight crew.
When no one volunteered, the older man was among those randomly selected to leave the flight.
“After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate,” United spokesman Charlie Hobart told the Chicago Tribune. “We apologize for the overbook situation.”
Passengers posted videos on Twitter and expressed outrage at the man’s forceful removal from United Flight 3411.
Fellow passenger Jayse D. Anspach captured the chaotic scene as it unfolded Sunday night and posted video online.
— Jayse D. Anspach (@JayseDavid) April 10, 2017
As police try to remove the man, his screams can be heard as he is forcibly pulled from his seat into the aisle.
Anspach said on Twitter that the doctor’s face was slammed against an armrest, causing “serious” bleeding from his mouth.
“It looked like he was knocked out, because he went limp and quiet and they dragged him out of the plane like a rag doll,” he wrote on Twitter.
Another passenger, Tyler Bridges, who also recounted the experience on Twitter, said United Airlines offered vouchers to passengers to leave and rebook, but no one volunteered, according to a Washington Post report.
— Tyler Bridges (@Tyler_Bridges) April 9, 2017
A young couple was selected first and left “begrudgingly,” according to Bridges’ account. The older man, however, refused to leave. Bridges said the man suggested he was targeted because he is Chinese.
“He says, ‘Nope. I’m not getting off the flight. I’m a doctor and have to see patients tomorrow morning,’” Bridges told the Post.
A third video shows the disoriented man running back onto the flight repeating, “I have to go home,” as he runs through the aisles.
— Tyler Bridges (@Tyler_Bridges) April 10, 2017
This is the second controversy to grab headlines for the airline in less than a month. United Airlines drew the ire of celebrities and passengers alike in March when it denied boarding to three teenage girls wearing leggings. The teens were flying using free passes which the company said are subject to strict dress codes for passengers.
How common are overbooked flights?
Flights are overbooked all the time and United Airlines is one of the worst offenders, according to passenger advocacy group AirHelp, which helps aggrieved passengers file claims against U.S. and European airlines.
To make sure flights are as full as possible, airlines often sell more tickets than there are seats on a plane. This is because airlines expect a certain percentage of passengers not to show up.
When too many people show up for a flight, passengers get “bumped.” Airlines are allowed to do this, but they have to compensate passengers for the inconvenience — they typically offer vouchers or cash refunds. Passengers can be eligible for reimbursement of up to four times the cost of their ticket, AirHelp says.
About 600,000 passengers were denied boarding due to overbooked flights in 2015 — and those numbers are only going up, according to AirHelp.
“Overbooking is getting more and more common for U.S. airlines because competition is stronger and they want to make sure they fly with as many full seats as possible,” AirHelp CEO Henrik Zillmer said.
United Airlines is second only to Southwest in overbookings. For every 10,000 passengers they serveed in 2015, 10 were denied boarding.
There are a couple of ways to decrease your chances of getting bumped, AirHelp says.
He said passengers should sign up for a frequent flier program or for one of the credit card programs with an airline because they tend to bump people who are not freqent fliers first. Although that would go against the policy of random selection that United said it used. Another way to avoid possibly getting bumped is flying off peak. “If you know there are going to be a lot of people on this flight, there is also a high risk of it being overbooked,” Zillmer said.