Doctor Involuntarily Denied Boarding, Dragged Off United Flight, Returns Bloodied

Reader @JayseDavid was on board United flight UA3411 from Chicago to Louisville, a United Express regional jet operated by Republic Airlines.

The flight was overbooked and United was looking for 4 volunteers to give up their seat, reportedly “for [United] personnel that needed to be at work the next day.” (Bumping for crew is supported by another passenger’s account as well.) There weren’t any volunteers, so United moved on to bump passengers involuntarily.

United Express Embraer Regional Jet

What’s unusual is that the flight had already boarded. Two of the passengers United was involuntarily bumping were “an Asian doctor and his wife” however the doctor insisted that he needed to be at the hospital the next day so he refused to get off.

Then things really went downhill.

Jayse tweeted me video of the doctor being dragged off the plane:

United apologizes for overbooking, but not for the attack on the customer.

Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation.

Things took an even stranger turn, though, when the passenger who was dragged off the aircraft got back on a litle while later:

The 1 hour 19 minute flight wound up delayed 2 hours.

Another passenger took video as well:

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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, 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. I have driven this route a zillion times. Very easy, Interstate all the way.

    Take the bump compensation and go by car.

  2. This is insane. Those who have a valid boarding ticket and are seated should remain onboard. Folks outside at the gate who could easily have been late are out of luck. Simple as that and I’m boycotting United for the foreseeable future. Their boarding policies are bizarre.
    I hope the doctor is ok.

  3. @Patrick…United caused the situation that led to law enforcement. Couldn’t they just fly their employees on another flight or even another airline? Couldn’t they increase compensation until they got the 4 seats? So many other common sense ways to resolve and this is the method United chooses! Screw Them!!!!

  4. This was handled so poorly by United and the Police. I have never understood why Airlines are either not required (or just in practice) continue to raise the voluntary bump compensation until a passenger volunteers. If it takes $1,500 or $2,000 or more, then that is what the market rate is. Someone will eventually volunteer as the amount is raised. On the flip side, the airlines have no problem charging that amount for the last seat in the first place.

  5. When there aren’t enough volunteers how do airlines choose which passenger(s) to bump? I always presumed it was the last passengers to arrive at boarding. Why remove a passenger already in his/her seat for another passenger standing at the gate? This implies they use some other factor that necessitated removing a passenger already seated on the plane so do they use loyalty status? Price paid for ticket? Most recent ticket purchased (i.e. First come first serve sort of thing based upon when ticket was purchased)?

  6. When flying, passengers have a choice, Do they want voluntary denied boarding, involuntary denied boarding or do you prefer to be dragged off the aircraft after being knocked unconscious with your face dripping blood? Think about that the next time you choose to fly the friendly skies of United Airlines.

  7. Fascists. No other supposedly free country would ever see police behave like this. They should be arrested for aggravated assault and locked up.

  8. This is a serious problem. and United needs to FULLY explain why they did what they did. Especially why they selected this passenger to be removed…

  9. We do not see what led up to it so its hard to pass judgement. Yes you can be forcefully removed if you refuse to leave when being IDB, its considered trespassing at that point. What should they have done a 20 hour standoff instead? No one owes an explanation. Also its an extremely small plane so it would be hard not to injure someone when being pulled off. He had may chances to leave the plane before and after the police arrived.

  10. Can’t wait for that passenger sue the pants off United (for discrimination) and the police (for excessive force).

  11. Reprehensible. Might also have something to do with Chicago, bet you can guess my political bias against that one-party town full of crime.

  12. puting their employees, when either the airline or employees, couldn’t organise to be back in location, ahead of paying customers, is a disgrace.

  13. @CDKing I’m all for getting the facts before passing judgement, so thanks for grounding us. But, if he was trespassing, why not just shoot him?

  14. @CDKing I’m all for getting the facts before passing judgement, so thanks for grounding us. But, if he was trespassing, why not just shoot him?

  15. This is a phenomenal lawsuit waiting to happen. UA, Police, airport, individual UA gate agents, staff….just fantastic. And IF the Dr did have a valid medical excuse to be at the hospital the next morning…? Even more fun. UA can watch their insurance premiums soar to the exosphere at this point.

  16. If it’s an easy drive to the destination, United could and should have hired a suburban to drive the crew to the destination. Problem solved and nobody’s inconvenienced.

  17. Gary, this was one of the more awful stories I’ve read on your website. Please update your readers with any further details about this story. It truly looked horrible for the doctor and all the passengers.

  18. The 2010s are the decade where we don’t give a shit about each other. The scientists, idealists, humanists, capitalists, whatever, etc. just do not give a shit about each other. Bump the fucker, smash the guitar, cling to a post, whatever. I’m not looking forward to how this zit of incivility called the 2010s pops.

  19. All the supposed “outrage” on this thread indicates to me that people confuse their environments. Your “rights” change according to your environment; when you fly an airline you agree to a contract of carriage, which can stipulate a different set of rules than those that apply in the outside world. (This echoes the outrage recently about the girls denied boarding because of their appearance—all of the fuss about “freedom of expression”, etc. showed an ignorance regarding an airline’s right to set their own rules).

  20. So it seems that UA beats the crap out of its passengers when necessary to operate thier ailine smoothly.

  21. The boarding process, the delay, the flight time = 4+ hours. The drive is 5 hours. United should have put their 4 people in a car the minute nobody took them up on their initial offer and they would have gotten there at the same time anyway. I would think twice before I fly United. I think there are several better solutions and this was a terrible mistake on their part.

  22. According to USA Today, another passenger on the plane said “Passengers were allowed to board the flight, Bridges said, and once the flight was filled those on the plane were told that four people needed to give up their seats to stand-by United employees who needed to be in Louisville on Monday for a flight. Passengers were told that the flight would not take off until the United crew had seats, Bridges said, and the offer was increased to $800, but no one volunteered.

    Then, she said, a manager came aboard the plane and said a computer would select four people to be taken off the flight. One couple was selected first and left the airplane, she said, before the man in the video was confronted.” Another video shows this man’s wife running after him after he was dragged off so that would have made 4 passenger’s who had their names randomly selected by a computer. Is that really done? How can that be okay?

  23. Easy Solution. Let the 4 employees flight on another airline that’s flying to the same airport. Or if there are extra crew seats for flight attendants let them fly in those seats.

  24. UA normal procedures assume paying passengers will accept being forcibly evicted. From their perspective, the bad will from a few passengers outweighs the cost of continuing to increase passenger compensation until someone accepts the deal. But when you get a passenger who refuses to accept eviction, the bad will you engender becomes a PR nightmare. This isn’t 10 years ago. You can be guaranteed to be on the nightly news now with lots of video to back it up. The fact it was an old doctor and a minority to boot has them doubly screwed. And they did it to themselves by sticking with the line that it is their right to do it.

  25. @The folks who are saying its an easy drive ,take the compensation and drive.

    The doctor may have had surgery in the morning and needed to be rested and not fatigued from driving.Would you want it to be you or your family going under the knife after your surgeon was beaten up the previous night because UA was too greedy in overbooking? People have jobs most of which are more important than air-bus driver and air-waitress. The crew should have driven.
    The FTC should really look at breaking UA into smaller pieces. Its obvious they have monopoly power if they are not scared to treat paying passengers this way.

  26. You buy a ticket. You should be guaranteed a seat. Overbooking should be illegal. And if the airline wants people to leave, they should up the ante to the market rate until someone takes the offer. Whatever it takes. Even if it takes $20,000 to get someone off the plane. The airlines play this game at the passengers inconvenience. It’s time the airlines were inconvenienced.

    I hope this guy sues for a hell of a lot, and wins!!!

  27. This story is insane. I agree – United could have shuttled the employees between ORD and Louisville, and avoided this horrible scene. There’s something about UA’s ground staff culture that is starting to trend. We have the leggins incident in Denver, this and my observations while boarding my VX flight in PSP a few weeks ago at the gate adjacent to a UA flight to DEN. I thought – this UA gate agent sounds like a storm trooper. She was shouting orders at the passengers while boarding, and was just totally overbearing. On the other adjacent gate, a DL flight was boarding for MSP. What a totally different experience to watch as they calmly and politely boarded a full A320. As for my VX, experience – they were borderline incompetent – which I still prefer over storm trooper. UA is far from out of the woods with regard to their customer experience. I think UA people need some additional training in crises avoidance.

  28. It’s really annnoying when misinformation is given out. For one thing how do you know this passenger was a doctor?? Did you see his credentials? And if he truly is, that scares the hell out of me. Secondly, airlines do NOT bump passengers so airline crew can “get to work.” They were deadheading. Big difference. Revenue passengers take priority over standbys, regardless of whether or not they are airline employees.

  29. So much for flying the “Friendly Skies” . . . .

    United SO f’d this up . . . there [probably] are certain legitimate circumstances for “involuntarily bumping” someone. But — @toomanybooks; @CDKing — I believe *both* of you overlook an important point: “the doctor insisted that he needed to be at the hospital the next day.”

    Now I have no idea what type of MD this gentleman is, but how would either of you want to be scheduled for knee replacement surgery, or heart transplant surgery, or gall bladder surgery, or — whatever! — and be told, “Oh, sorry. Your surgeon didn’t show up this morning.” Or perhaps worse: I don’t know about YOU, but I don’t want my surgeon to drive 4.5+ hours and then — after losing sleep — cut me open with a scalpel . . . .

    I know that [almost] EVERYONE on that plane had somewhere to be the following day. But (e.g.) a teacher can be replaced for a single day by a substitute; an office worker can come in late to work after calling his or her boss to explain the situation. But certain professionals CANNOT be so easily excused or replaced. A doctor is one. In certain instances, a lawyer is another (you need to appear in court in a criminal matter, and if you’re a sole practitioner, you don’t have a partner to appear on your behalf). Like it or not, some professions have an easier time missing a day/showing up late than others. While that makes “involuntarily bumping” someone far more complicated, that’s just yet another factor that needs to be considered (IMHO).

    Clearly the flight was NOT overbooked; UA wanted four of their employees on the flight rather than four paid passengers. If compensation was offered at $800, UA would have had to lay out $3,200 (minimum; more if they kept increasing the compensation until four people actually AGREED to be voluntarily bumped — free market forces at work). In contrast, how much would it have cost UA to rent a car and have *their* four employees drive to Louisville?

    Bottom line is United f’d this up . . . BADLY!

  30. Anyone care to comment on the ‘elephant in the room/plane”? The supposed “random” computer generated selection of the quiet mature asian couple?

    I seriously hope UA pays through the nose for this. The meathead who aggressively pulled the passenger need to get fired too.

    Boycott UA, this could be you next.

  31. @Flygal: 1) Of course none of us sitting in front of their computers say the gentleman’s identification, but since several reports have said (and he claimed to be) a doctor, I *choose* to take that claim at face value until proven otherwise. 2) The employees *were* deadheading; they were *also* being moved to work a flight the next morning.

  32. United Airlines has a long history of mistreating paying customers. It is time to boycott United and use any of their competitors. The only way a evil company like United will learn their lesson is if you force them to pay attention by hurting them in the pockets. I bet they will be quick to make changes if they have to layoff 20% of their workforce due to sales being down. Ideally, evil, greedy companies like United that mistreat people should go out of business and make way for a new company that will learn from their mistakes, since United probably won’t be going away anytime soon, boycott them for now.

  33. Like Jason Brandt Lewis says: “Clearly the flight was NOT overbooked.” Hell, for that kind of money – $3200 plus hotel costs – UA could have limo’d their employees to Louisville. Now they have a humongous public relation issue on their hands. What stupidity!

  34. Yes, yes, yes, overselling flights should be ILLEGAL!!! It is done strictly to increase the profits of the company and maximize the bonus for top management! That’s it!!! Overselling flights is not for the benefit of the crew or anyone else in the company other than the bonus for top management for increasing or maintaining profits.

    They only offered $800 compensation, no wonder no one took it. They charge outrageous fees for last minute fliers and should therefore give outrageous compensation to those bumped. Disgusting double standards.

    Also, United should now issue an advisory (like what drug companies do in their advertisements) as follows: “We may use law enforcement to VIOLENTLY remove you from our plane if you interfere with top management’s attempts to maximize their annual bonus.”

    Here is a fair solution that the airlines can use to bump off passengers: start by offering to pay $1,000 for each hour of the flight. 1 hour flight = $1,000, 2 hours = $2,000, 6 hours = $6,000 etc.
    If no one takes it then double or triple the compensation. 1 hour flight = $2,000, then $3,000 etc.
    I am sure they will have not problem getting volunteers at that rate. Ok, they can cap it at $10,000 per hour maximum. And deduct the money from the annual bonus of senior management.

  35. @Peter — I’m Asian. I do wonder if racial stereotypes contributed to the treatment of this passenger by the police — e.g., because Asians aren’t expected to fight back, was the officer unrestrained in using aggression?

    Then again blacks, who are stereotyped in the opposite manner, are also viciously beaten by police.

  36. This is the most horrible abuse of power ever It does not matter if he was a Dr he paid for his ticket This airlines abuse should be awarded by lawsuit. I had an incident 44th anniversary gift jewelry stolen on Delta they refused to replace or pay never fly them again tell my story to everyone what they did to me . Make them pay Sir for abuse, embrassment, injury and anything else your lawyer thinks of make them pay you.

  37. While it is reprehensible that United would forcibly evict anyone who has already boarded and what they did was unreal, I take issue with the wanna be journalists who all grabbed their phones and started recording. No-one stood up and volunteered to be “tribute” even though the police were called to remove the more mature couple. They’d rather see something awful happen than try to stop it. Sad that our society has come to this.

  38. I don’t understand why United Airlines didn’t just stop the last four people from boarding the plane at the gate? Simple solution!

  39. Let the lawsuit begin. This is one reason why I never fly United. The flight was never overbooked until 4 UA employees needed seats.

    Knowing this person, this was a huge deal that UA has only seen the surface of. Trust me, major fallout is coming soon.

  40. You have to follow what the crew says whether you like or not. No good will come from not complying. Nevertheless, United is THE WORST airline there is.

    My spouse and I paid $4600 each to fly business class from our home through Toronto to Hong Kong and Tokyo. The outbound trip was on Air Canada (which was fantastic). I should have known better but I booked the return from Tokyo back to the US on United. We had selected two seats for some privacy – one window and the aisle. (The seating was 2 – 4 – 2.) I noticed a day before returning our seats had been changed. They gave our two seats to United personnel (we went to look at who got our seats) and moved us to the two worst possible business class seats – two seats in the middle of four seats in two different rows, one facing backwards. We could not even see each other on a 15 hour flight. (A nice passenger switched so at least we could fly together. Having to climb over a stranger to use the restroom is a pain.) Could they not have given the United personnel the seats they gave us? Or coach seats? We complained on the plane but it did not good. We complained in writing but they just sent us a form letter explaining you can have your seat changed at any time and they looked forward to us flying with them again. In many years of flying we had never had our seats changed. I guess it mostly happens in business or first class which we don’t fly very often.

    I should have known better. The year before on the same destinations, we both had first class seats from Newark to Hong Kong on United. We had a window seat and aisle seat together booked months earlier. When we get on board, my spouse (who had the window seat) was moved to a separate first class cabin. We were supposed to fly for 15 hours in separate cabins. We complained which was unlikely to do any good (they really don’t care). The only thing that saved us was the person they gave the seat to didn’t show up for the flight. They have no qualms about giving away already booked seats to frequent high flyers.

    That’s why we no longer will book anything on United.

  41. I see lawsuits against United and even the Police for their role in heavy-handed tactics. Want to play rough, expect to be sued.

  42. Passengers who are already boarded and seated are already off the list for being bumped off unless they voluntarily give up their seats. Non revenue passengers only get on when there are available seats. There should be a good and legal reason for this happening.
    A point too as noted above, I am Asian and on occasion would be given a short stick by a crew member which I just shrug off as inconsequential in the big picture and order of things so profiling could also have played something here. It was also usually only one of the crew members and the others usually make up for it, unknowingly of course by just being their nice selves.

  43. This is ridiculous. Why let people board if you are planning to kick them off the plane? United did not plan properly or they would not have 4 crew members needing to fly to their destination at the last minute. If they can charge ridiculous fares for last minute passengers, then passengers should be able to ask high compensation (in cash, not useless vouchers) in order to give up their seats. Let United decide the level at which it is willing to buy back these seats from passengers. At some price point, people will be willing to sell back their seats. FAA, Justice, Commerce – all should investigate this. Make United pay.

  44. As far as how they decide who to bump, on another United flight we were told it was by the ticket price. The lowest price ticket customer is the first to be bumped. On another post where I talked about flying back from Tokyo, we landed in Washington, DC. There was snow. We boarded the flight. Was about ready to go when we were told that the plane was “too heavy” and volunteers were needed to deplane. No one volunteered. So they selected 3 or 4 passengers. This process took about an hour as the gate agent kept running back and forth from the plane to gate until they selected the soon-to-be ex-passengers and got them off the plane. We left more than two hours late on a 50 minute flight. This might be expected if United had just started in the business – but they have been around a long time (some might say too long).

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