Brawl: Passenger And Agent At United Ticket Counter Go At It

In 2015 a 71 year old man was pushed to the ground by a United Airlines customer service agent. Then in 2017 David Dao was dragged off of a United Express flight and bloodied.

After that United Airlines did what has seemed like a good job at de-escalation training. That paid off during the pandemic with far fewer incidents of passengers breaking down and assaulting crew over mask requirements than competitors.

However a new viral video, with around 9 million videos, is circulating showing an agent at a United Airlines check-in counter and a passenger in a fight:

There’s not enough video here to know whether the passenger or the employee strikes first or why. So you can read your own biases into the incident. We’re almost certain to be seeing a lot more of this clip, and so the story may come out.

There will be airport video showing the full event, though that may be closely guarded. Remember that whenever there’s an incident at an airport, there’s video. The airline generally has access to it but they’ll never share it with you. So unless it’s successfully subpeonaed or leaked you won’t be able to use it.

United Airlines has not responded to my request for comment.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Based on the reactions from both parties and the witnesses, it’s quite obvious the agent hit the passenger first. I’m just glad I moved from the US…crazy.

  2. @Skooby: I am going to guess who started it but I would say very very few agents throw first punches. Not to say never. But I do agree with you, I have looked back once at my decision to move from that land of crazy. I watch the politicians trip over each other to be the farthest to the left or right and could care less about the centrists. No wonder the people act this way.

  3. That passenger has no resemblance to Dr. David Dao, who became the official United Airlines human punching bag and maltreatment mascot.

  4. Today’s PSA: Never visit America. For many reasons beyond what happens daily in your airports and on your planes.

  5. @joe – thanks for the encouragement – gladly spend my tourist dollars elsewhere

  6. @Suzanne: “Time to stop comparing everything to Dr Dao.” I agree, Suzanne. There is a significant difference between Dr. Dao and the passenger featured in Gary’s article.

    Dr. Dao, an internal medicine physician, was a passenger who booked, paid, and was seated in his passenger seat to return to work on time. When he refused to be involuntarily deplaned from United Express Flight 3411 to make room for four deadheading employees, he was knocked unconscious and dragged down the aisle and off the aircraft. Compared to the person in the video fighting at the United Airlines ticket counter, Dr. Dao was beaten unconscious only after refusing a United Airlines voucher offer for future travel in exchange for his seat. Accordingly, in comparison, unconscious Dr. Dao did not throw any punches.

    Although United Airlines does not currently have airport boxing match referees, if someone was comparing United Airlines to a boxing match, Dr. Dao might be considered to be issued a TKO or technical knockout.

  7. @skooby – off topic, just curious, where exactly did you move to
    (an honest question from American by choice, not by accident)?

  8. It’s beyond belief that people still think that Dao was manhandled by United employees. It was the Airport Police … try to keep up, guys.

    Seems that Americans are now so concerned about everyone’s personal rights that nobody gets punished for anything. We are seeing the result; people becoming violent when there’s a disagreement. How long will this country pretend that things are going well? Instead of taking a swing at someone you’re disagreeing with, you pull out a gun … would that do it?

  9. United can save its public image by immediately firing this agent and making it known that the airline will not stand by any employee or contractor who behaves in such a way, period. It does not matter what the customer did. Period.

    United should also provide their customer with an attorney to file a criminal suit against the employee who is plainly shown on video to be committing assault punishable by jail time. United should also provide the customer 10 years of free flights in the most premium cabin.

    If you are a customer facing worker, you have three primary jobs.

    1. De-escalate
    2. De-escalate
    3. De-escalate

    If you commit a crime in the course of your professional duties, you should be both criminally prosecuted as well as fired very publicly by your employer to make an example of your shameful self.

    There is absolutely no excuse or justification for the heinous physical violence perpetrated by the airline employee in the video shown in this blog post. From a human empathy perspective we may wish that the employee receives appropriate mental health treatment, but justice must also be done, and that is to put the employee in prison, and help the customer get back on his feet after such a traumatic incident.

    Next, senior vice presidents at United Airlines should be holding several meetings with customer-facing staff at Newark Airport to ensure that this kind of situation is never repeated. I have a few suggestions. One, implement a rigorous system of performance review. Solicit feedback from every passenger at every touchpoint, and immediately fire any employee who receives negative feedback from every customer who is a longtime, high revenue United Airlines flyer and who has established a reputation for providing level-headed feedback. Once this scheme proves successful at Newark, roll it out to every airport in the country.

    Airfare has gotten very expensive and I’m tired of jerkwads in customer facing positions who are not only bad at doing their jobs, but bad at the basic concept of being a decent human being. These people should be fired and blacklisted from any customer facing job. If you cannot handle other human beings, which is a flaw owing to your own incompetence of personal development and inability to mature into a healthy adult who is skilled in interpersonal relationships, then you should be placed into a role like baggage handling where your job does not entail dealing with human beings.

    Likewise you should be banned from holding a driver’s license because your behavior may succumb you to road rage and other non-civil acts that are harmful for society. You should be banned from having children because you will instill in them the same awful values and behaviors that you exhibit.

    United Airlines, fire this employee immediately and announce that any other employee who demonstrates similar behaviors will be similarly, summarily, fired.

  10. Ah EWR…

    Do we know for sure the agent was a UA employee or a contracted baggage assistant

  11. Hipster has never been in a fight in his life and is wanting to throw hands. lol

  12. The problem started with the passenger using a wheelchair to move his luggage around instead of paying up for a cart. As to how things got from there to who threw the first punch…my money is on the passenger after being told to stop using the wheelchair as a baggage cart. Agent should still get fired for punching back though…

  13. Now THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about!!! “Come fly the friendly skies”
    Seriously though, Mr. United is lucky that he didn’t get killed…..gotta just take that TKO and move on.

  14. Welcome aboard sir!! Its our pleasure to welcome you to our United friendly skies where we bash you at check in and through our Mileage Plus program where we can take you over the coals and screw you in your wallet too.
    Kidding aside while the agent appears totally in the wrong Flying has overall never been worse and the airlines in general have removed empowerment for agents to fix issues and create a non hostile environment in a deeply troubled stressed out world.
    Wow just wow just when you think you’ve seen it all
    .Is it just me or does it seem like United fosters the most hostile CRM of them all along with Spirit leading to more of these unfortunate incidents .So glad I ditched United back in 2004
    Saw them falling apart.Everything happens for a reason.
    Sad I once was proud to fly them for many years 1995 through 2004.Just to think it once was my favorite US carrier of all time.Its hard to wrap my mind around what they have become.
    Its a brand image crisis in my perception as bad as the Dr being dragged off the flight

  15. The passenger in question is ex-Broncos cornerback Brendan Langley, who has been charged with simple assault. The United worker has not been charged.

    You people need to learn that all the real news is covered by the Daily Mail.

  16. The sad reality is that this video is getting more views that all of the commercials that United paid for as part of its new campaign – which this video pretty much tosses out the window.

  17. Worker has been fired by UA.

    Daily Mail people. It’s where all the news is. No, really. Way better Ukraine coverage than any US site.

  18. @Tim Dunn: I agree. For maximum advertising return on investment, United Airlines should consider sponsoring World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

  19. Ryan,
    It doesn’t really matter. They’re still considered an “agent thereof” ….kind of like when UA tried to wiggle out of the Dao thing which happened on an airplane painted in United colors with a United logo on it and by employees dressed in United-ish uniforms who then called the not-so-police Chicago “Aviation Police” ( NOT CPD). If you subcontract something….anything…..it might as well still be you.

  20. It is all about me me me me . With Dr. Dao, it was about him….UA owns the plan and asked him to leave their property. Just like you would ask a guest to leave your home, even if you invited them, if they overstay their welcome you CAN ask the police to remove the. If they refuse to leave the police do have the right to remove them. ( aka Resisting arrest) .

    From what i saw from the video the UA walked up to a customer and HIT the customer. That was NOT self defense. The UA employee made it wrong once he did that NO MATTER who started it.

  21. ….. using a wheelchair as a luggage cat is pathetic… it would be a different story if his sorry ass would be in need of a wheelchair, and there’s some idiot using it as a luggage cart because he didn’t want to pay to use one. Im not defending the agent.. but really? a wheelchair? get real. I guess this never would have happened if he had not been too cheap to fork out the $ for the actual luggage cart. And don’t tell me those luggage cart go for $5 to use; doesn’t matter. cheap bastard.

  22. using a wheelchair as a luggage cat is pathetic

    Yeah it would if it was one of the wheelchairs in the airport that are in scarce supply. How do you know there weren’t 5 million unused wheelchairs in the terminal? How do you know the passenger hadn’t brought his own wheelchair, perhaps for a traveling companion?

    some idiot

    Are you talking about yourself? Civilized, educated people don’t use the term “idiot” because it’s not only a personal attack–it conveys no information about your victim.

    Im not defending the agent.. but

    But you’re sympathetic to him as you perceive the passenger committed an infraction (when you have no proof of such), thus, in your mind, that somehow remotely justifies the agent’s violent outburst.

    I guess this never would have happened if he had not been too cheap to fork out the $ for the actual luggage cart.

    Good on you for admitting it’s a guess.

    And don’t tell me those luggage cart go for $5 to use; doesn’t matter.

    It’s $6, actually.

    cheap

    It’s great that $5-6 means nothing to you, but there is an increasing population of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck. $5-6 can buy two meals at McDonald’s (BOGO $1 McDouble or McChicken). Calling someone “cheap” is at least more informative than “idiot,” but it’s still a really bad look. Ultimately, maybe this passenger is a cheap idiot. That’s a maybe, and it has nothing to do with you or me. What’s a certainty is you demonstrate incivility, and that’s something to be ashamed of.

  23. @Yin Jing you sound like the kind of pompous, cheap idiot that needs slapped upside the head a few times.

  24. This is so tragic. Lives ruined because of what? Ask yourself that. People bloodied in whose name? Permanent brain damage! It’s not safe, and it’s getting worse. Hoe will you protect yourself when you are put in the same situation?

  25. VERIFIED UPDATE FROM TWITTER

    A friend of the passenger, responding to the wheelchair question:

    United instructed him to use a wheelchair to carry his luggage because they were out of their normal dollys . The employee that got beat up chased him down saying he couldn’t use it and then tried to physically remove it from Brendan’s hands which led to the fight.

    Blue checkmark-verified user iammsuzy posted the above. I cannot provide a hyperlink due to the way the spam filter works on this blog. To find the tweet in its original location, first find the top-level tweet, “Anyone have solid legal counsel?” then click into the reply, “why was dude chasing him down”

  26. Getting fired means nothing these days. The gate agent could walk in to pretty mich any restaurant or construction site right now and get a job that probably pays more than his previous job of listening to assholes yelling at you about their luggage all day. If you’re gonna quit a dead end job anyways, may as well make it good.

  27. So i have flown times before and when I have had too much to carry never has it crossed my mind nor would it as an employee of an airport to say to a passenger or to myself as a flying passenger to please help yourself to the wheelchair that is for other persons that cannot walk or for those mothers that can’t walk with babies or pregnant, to use a wheelchair for my luggage. If you make some bank, why not pay for the help or take less luggage on your trip. Sorry they ran out of luggage holders to carry your crap ton of clothing or makeup. Wheel chairs are for those that actually need them not for luggage duchebags(male or female).

  28. @Derek – This is an interesting point – no matter how full the parking lot, no matter how much I curse too many handicapped spots or pregnant women spots, I’m just not going to park in those spots. One shouldn’t feel like wheelchairs are for anyone other than those who need them to live, no matter how many bags you have.

    FWIW, he collected approx. $1.5 million from the Broncos for his terminated contract. His Calgary salary is $600K. (No idea if that’s US dollars or Canadian pesos.) The guy can afford a $5 luggage cart.

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