United Reveals Play By Play Of Passenger Removal Incident to Congress

We first learned from passengers what happened on board the United flight where a passenger was dragged off by Chicago Aviation Police and bloodied in the process.

This week, through released documents, we learned the Police version of events.

United has provided its detailed play by play in a letter to members of the Senate Commerce Committee (.pdf)

United CEO Oscar Munoz opens by defenestrating himself before the Senators (“I understand the Committee’s strong interest in this incident and appreciate your important oversight role”).

Then they offer substantial detail. They offered up to $1000 in travel credits to passengers willing to get off the flight voluntarily. The crew members flying to Louisville had been booked on a different, delayed flight which they weren’t sure was going to fly but that ultimately did close to midnight. (Had they taken this flight it would have meant delaying the morning flight back due to FAA required rest.)

(HT: @davidshepardson via @briansumers)

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. So many facts here that would have immediately shut down many of the armchair critics who took to the social media megaphone to fling their accusations last week. Yet, No one has offered any suggestions on how airlines are to deal with a passenger who vehemently refuses to leave an aircraft – when legitamelty asked to do so. And now the traveling public is emboldened to stay put thanks to the media-driven public backlash this story has generated. Another incident recently on Delta showed a man who blatantly ignored crew and got up and went to the bathroom during taxi- an understood no no among the general flying public. He then refused to leave the plane and passengers could be heard in full support of him.

    A dangerous precedent being set here.

  2. This letter states that it was possible to drive the crew to SDF. Previous accounts indicated that was not an option, presumably due to union contracts. Driving the crew there and getting the required rest would have meant a service delay of unknown length not a cancellation of the flight.

    The letter and the response to the questions from the Commerce committee state that flight 3411 was the last “on-line” opportunity to fly the crew to SDF. That begs the question: were there any available flights on other airlines?

  3. Here’s the issue: Republic doesn’t have a crew in Louisville. Why not? Why have a 6:55AM scheduled flight and no crew? This is idiotic and the root of the issue.

  4. I don’t think there is anything particularly exculpatory here for United, and perhaps raises more questions that it answers, but it should be recognized that not all of these statements should be given equal weight. UAL, the police, and even Mr. Dao are interested parties, and their statements must be read with that understanding. The third-party passengers however, have no dog in this fight, and their versions should be considered much more reliable sources of evidence. This is particularly true for the extemporaneous statements made by third party passengers as Dao was being abused (i.e., their statements of shock and disgust at what they were seeing) which demonstrate their current state of mind at the time, unaffected by hindsight or rationalization.

  5. The letter states that driving was a possibility but as that it would almost certainly trigger delays or cancellations due to the crew rest provision.

  6. BS. This narrative does not invalidate ANY of the criticisms. There is never a need to use police force to remove any ticketed/seated pax involuntarily, despite whatever “policies” UA chooses to suit its revenue enhancement. THERE WAS NO SECURITY ISSUE. Crew won’t make it in time? Tough — they had plenty of time to notify pax on the morning flight. That’s UA/Republic’s fault for not having enough crews. There’s a shortage of crews and not enough flights to SDF? Maybe a Port official has a vacation home to visit, so add some. Or how about PAYING MORE to attract crew members? Even UA is making a ton of money these days.

    A suggestion on how to remove a passenger who’s legitamelty (sic) asked to do so? Your premise is wrong — this was NOT a legitimate request, morally, even if you support UA’s actions. Passengers shouldn’t be mindless sheep following whatever corporate dictate comes down the pike. The sooner airlines realize we’re humans ( who have to occasionally pee when it’s inconvenient) and deserving of decent and sensible treatment, the better off we’ll all be.

  7. Brett… the inbound crew would be coming in on flight 4448 which was likely to be cancelled. While seemingly “idiotic”, it’s not feasible for the airline to maintain a reserve of excess crew in every operating city just in case positioning flight does not deliver operating crew.

  8. My takeaways:
    1. UA/Republic will try harder to get deadheaders onto flights earlier. Dr. Dao might well still be bounced from the flight, just before he boards.
    2. When they can’t, the deadheaders will miss the flight. Downstream flights will be delayed or cancelled. I am sure when people hear their flights have been cancelled for lack of crew, they won’t complain any more.
    3. More passengers will feel they can argue FAs. I’m sure that will turn out well.

    As I’ve said before, I have a feeling that the rest of us are going to pay for this.

  9. Whatever they say now it does not matter any more. The damage has been done and the world saw how cruel this airline is crystal clear in that video that went viral. No one deserves to be dragged out the plane like a worthless animal (even animals don’t deserve such treatment by the way).

  10. The simple fact is there were people on the flight who volunteered to come off for $1600. The GA was not authorized to go beyond $1000. This was United’s fault

    The simple fact is Republic knew the previous flight was delayed 3 hours in advance and should have immediately moved the crew to 3411 instead of waiting till passengers were boarded. This was United’s fault

    The simple fact is there were flights from AA later that night. Passengers would have volunteered if offered flights getting in the same night. United did not and offered a flight 20 hours later. This was United’s fault

    United tried to be cheap and bully a passenger into giving up his seat to cover their own mistakes.

  11. To partially answer my own question a quick check of ITA shows a 9:00pm UA flight nonstop to SDF and an AA non stop at 6:45pm as well as a DL connection at 6:40pm. Availability on April 9 is unknown. However, it appears UA did not explore all possibilities to avoid yanking Dao off flight 3411. A delayed flight out of SDF would have been a much better outcome than resorting to Gestapo tactics to get Dao of the plane..

    This incident also raises questions about crew positioning. Even if UA or Republic had a base at SDF, my understanding is that doesn’t mean the crew lives there. I think it is quite normal for pilots and FAs to be based at a city that can be far from where they live. I do not know how much this costs the airlines (and customers who actually pay these costs) in terms of transportation costs, potential operational difficulties, and other expenses.

  12. Great! Got it! Note to self:
    1. Ignore cabin crew on all matters.
    2. Refuse to leave seat under every circumstance.
    3. Physically resist removal by flailing around .
    4. Have personal injury attorney on speed dial.

    Anything else I missed?

  13. The United explanation as written weeks later and nuanced by the best lawyers, speech writers and PR people to give the most exculpatory view of the events.

    A different take on events: United tried to cheaply buy off, then bully and when that didn’t work, they used force. Even with the existing videos, we hear continue to hear explanations that are contrary to the statements. Once again, these people think that if you repeat a lie often enough, at least some of your audience will believe it.

    There are many more sides to this story. Hopefully we’ll hear more of them.

  14. Blah, blah, blah. Basically this account shows that airlines think that getting their employees to work is more important than getting their customers to work, in this case a doctor. It shows that airlines would rather inconvenience their customers rather than have sufficient resources to deal with routine staffing issues. It is like a restaurant that has reservations for 100 people for dinner but only orders for enough food to feed 98 people because 2 people might not make their reservation. Such a restaurant would deservedly go out of business quickly. Unfortunately if it is one of only five restaurants in the city and they all do it then the customers just have to suck it up. After years of consolidation in the airline industry (Virgin gone now) there simply isn’t much competition anymore. The government should not allow any more airline mergers.

  15. What if somebody sits in an unoccupied Y+ (or even F) seat and refuses to move? Or what if it’s a prop plane and due to weight & balance issues they need 3 people to get off and everybody refuses?

    I don’t really care that United called the cops … it’s certainly better than FAs and pax fighting, and I’m really not sure what else you’d have UA do if somebody is occupying a seat that must be operationally freed up.

    I have problems with:
    1. Why are their (lesser trained) “aviation security” officers at the airport when there are ACTUAL POLICE at the airport?
    2. Why are security officers (who are wearing police garb despite being explicitly told not to) escalating the level of violence instead defusing the situation?
    3. Why is United waiting till the last minute to get crew where they need to be?

  16. It continues to appear that United’s only option in the face of the last minute addition of the repositioning crew members as passengers and David Dao’s refusal to deplane was to deboard the entire flight and start the boarding process all over with David Dao becoming an involuntary denied boarding. At the point where decisions got made, it was inevitable someone would be inconvenienced, and United had to choose the least undesirable alternative among several alternatives, all of which were undesirable to some degree. Clearly, deplaning 4 passengers was less undesirable than deboarding the entire flight and starting over, or cancelling the early morning Louisville flight and stranding 70 passengers.

  17. All of the above is great info and I believe it. However, that doesn’t give the airline and the police or sorta-police security guards wearing police vests, the passport to treat that man like that. Either

    1/ offer more in vouchers until you have a taker
    2/ offer cash instead of funny-money vouchers that can not be combined or split, expire in a year, cannot be used on third party websites and involve jumping through hoops to redeem.

    If United had actually indicated the above we’d all be a lot more sympathetic. Sadly they tried to wordsmith the problem away with corporate-bs-buzzwords and a sorry-but-not-sorry song and dance.

    United deserves this………..

  18. @JD are you sure you read the same blog post as myself? Lots of unanswered questions, 1) why was Republic waiting so late to get a crew to SDF? 2) doesn’t the airline know if a flight is going to CX or not? 3) the IDB does not talk about “what if the passengers is on board already. How do you IDB someone who is on the plane? IF the airline was in right why did they settle with the passenger?

  19. …and why am I not surprised that the original Republic executed flight that the crew was booked on had an extended mechanical that likely would lead to a flight cancellation. There were three months in my life where I tried “The New United” and Republic/Endeavour made very sure that they torpedoed any kind of goodwill “The New United” was trying to win. I was at the receiving end of endless delays (the shortest was 1 hour, the longest was 6 hours and ultimately cancelled, and I was rebooked on an AA flight).

    After three months of me trying and giving UA the benefit of the doubt, I gave up, and have not been back on UA. Not until they deliver in-flight consistency, equipment reliability and personnel that actually represents the “friendly skies” UA purports to deliver will I be back. I have a feeling pigs will fly first.

  20. @747always FALSE that is NOT and never has been my position. I have said that United is substantially to blame, that the Chicago Aviation Police share much of the blame as well. And that while I do think Dr. Dao should have complied with a (legal) request, he did NOT deserve what happened to him.

    I do not know why you are completely misunderstanding or willfully misrepresenting my position.

  21. Agree with Gary: EVERYONE involved shares the blame: United, Airport Police, and last — but not least — David Dao. It took “three to tango” to produce this trainwreck. But the fact remains that David Dao is the only wrongdoer who actually profited from his wrongdoing. Everyone else had to pay dearly.

    When David Dao was carrying on about how he is a doctor and needed to see patients the next morning, maybe he should have mentioned:

    “I am a convicted felon who lost my medical license for dealing opioids and defrauding Medicare, and I don’t really have a medical license at all, but after 10 years of being banned from medical practice, I am allowed to work in an outpatient clinic one day a week under supervision from real doctors.”

    I’m sure everyone would have agreed he was the most important person on the flight, and the one person who could not be IVDB’d.

    What a world!

  22. Why Congress? Have you flown lately? They throw people off planes like the WWF. Take a look at CEO Munoz’s first tweet. Notice the arrogance? That’s why he’ll be unemployed next year. He’s done. And the airlines customer tone WILL change. Let all the airline CEO’s get roasted by Pocahontas and Stewart Smalley. Any stewardess talks to me with that tone, I’ll get $20M just like Dr. Dao just got.

  23. If David doubt really got $20 million I would like to knock out the rest of his teeth And beat the stuffing out of them so united can get that kind of money’s worth.

    The settlement is confidential and I don’t think there’s any real information about how much he got, but I would imagine it’s in the six figures not eight figures

    Privately, airline employees are backing the airline not the passenger

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