We’ve all been in this situation: we’re at the gate, waiting for our plane, and the gate agent makes an announcement that the flight is overbooked and they’re looking for “volunteers” to take a later flight in exchange for a travel voucher. If there are no immediate volunteers, the value of the voucher can go up . . . and up . . . and up.
But what if there are no volunteers, at any price? I’ve never bitten on any of those offers because I would much rather get to where I’m going. What if everyone on a particular flight took that approach? I’ve always wondered about that scenario.
Now we’ve got an answer, of sorts. On one overbooked United Airlines flight, from O’Hare Airport in Chicago to Louisville, an airport security officer physically assaulted a passenger who was in his seat on the plane and dragged him down the aisle and off the plane so United staff who needed to get to Louisville could take his seat. Of course, other passengers had out their cell phones and took video footage of the encounter. The video is pretty shocking when you consider that the man who was mistreated was a ticketed passenger who had paid for the flight, checked in, and followed all of the rules.
United told passengers that four people needed to leave the flight and that it was selecting the people who needed to give up their seats to United staffers by random computer selection. Three of the unlucky people apparently left voluntarily — but when the one passenger refused, he was forcibly removed. One passenger said that the man had originally agreed to give up his seat, but rescinded his decision when he learned that the next available flight was not until the next day.
Of course, United officials and the Chicago Department of Aviation say that the actions of airport security were contrary to policy, and they’ve apologized. United, meanwhile, is dealing with a PR nightmare. How many people are going to think twice about choosing a United flight if, say, an American flight is available? And for those of us who fly regularly, it’s an eye opener to think that you could be chosen randomly to give up that seat you reserve because an airline has decided that its staff needs to have that seat instead, and then mauled by airport police if you decline.
“Fly the friendly skies,” indeed!