Well, sometimes the friendly skies aren’t so friendly. Excerpt:
The world is rightly abuzz over an awful incident yesterday in which a man was beaten and dragged off a plane by police at Chicago’s O’Hare airport for the crime of wanting to use the seat he’s paid for on a United Airline flight getting ready to leave for Louisville.
The man claimed to be a doctor who had patients to see the next morning, explaining why he neither took an initial offer made to everyone on the plane to accept $400 and a hotel room for the night in exchange for voluntarily giving up his seat nor wanted to obey a straight-up order to leave, in an attempt on United’s part to clear four seats for its own employees on the full flight.
No one considered even the $800 that was offered after everyone had boarded enough for the inconvenience, so United picked four seats and just ordered those in them to vacate. But the one man in question was not interested in obeying. (Buzzfeed reports, based on tweets from other passengers, that the bloodied man did eventually return to the plane.)
Here’s the part I’d like to comment on:
While United’s customer service policies in this case are clearly heinous and absurd, let’s not forget to also cast blame on the police officers who actually committed the brutality on United’s behalf. NPR reports that the cops attacking the man “appear to be wearing the uniforms of Chicago aviation police.”
Full disclosure: I live in Denver; Denver is a major United hub; I have status and a metric buttload (that’s 1.173 British buttloads) of award miles on United. So I fly United, and all in all my experiences with them have been pretty good. With that in mind, it’s the bolded part I’ll comment on. I agree with the folks at Reason.com more often than not, but in this case they’re just wrong. Why?
Whenever anyone buys a plane ticket (whether they read it or not) agrees to that airline’s Contract of Carriage. Part G of United’s contract reads:
All of UA’s flights are subject to overbooking which could result in UA’s inability to provide previously confirmed reserved space for a given flight or for the class of service reserved. In that event, UA’s obligation to the Passenger is governed by Rule 25.
Rule 25 refers to how much the airline has to reimburse you if you get bumped.
Now, the fact that the passenger in question either didn’t read or didn’t care about the contract of carriage doesn’t excuse what really, really appears to be excessive force by the cops who removed him. But at the point the plane’s captain – who, like the captain of a ship at sea, has pretty much universal control over what happens on his aircraft – asked him to leave and he refused, he was then committing trespass.
There’s some blame on both sides here, probably. But you aren’t exempt from the provisions of a contract that you agreed to, just because you didn’t bother to read them. United was within their rights to ask him to deplane. He was wrong to refuse.
But, it’s fair to point out that United handled the situation really badly. The optics will kill them – for a while. Fortunately the American public, especially the social-media addicted, have the attention span of a blue-bottle fly. By next week this will be all but forgotten.