Airline under fire after doctor is dragged off plane
A US airline has been forced to defend its staff after video emerged of police dragging a bloodied, apparently unconscious passenger from an overbooked flight.
As the United Airlines flight waited to depart from Chicago O'Hare Airport, officers could be seen grabbing the screaming man from a window seat, pulling him across the armrest and dragging him down the aisle by his arms. The airline was trying to make room for four of its employees on the Sunday evening flight to Louisville, Kentucky.
Other passengers on Flight 3411 are heard saying, "please, my God", "what are you doing? This is wrong", "look at what you did to him" and "busted his lip".
Passenger Audra Bridges posted the video on Facebook. Her husband, Tyler Bridges, said United offered $400 (€380) and then $800 vouchers and a hotel stay for volunteers to give up their seats. When no one volunteered, a United manager came on the plane and announced that passengers would be chosen at random.
"We almost felt like we were being taken hostage," Mr Bridges said. "We were stuck there. You can't do anything as a traveller. You're relying on the airline."
When airline employees named four customers who had to leave the plane, three of them did so. The fourth person refused to move and police were called, United spokesman Charlie Hobart said.
"We followed the right procedures," Mr Hobart said. "That plane had to depart. We wanted to get our customers to their destinations."
Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines' parent company, described the event as "upsetting" and apologised for "having to reaccommodate these customers". He said the airline was conducting a review and contacting the passenger.
When the manager approached the passenger, he said he was a doctor who needed to see patients in the morning, Mr Bridges said. Two officers tried to reason with the man before a third came aboard and pointed at the man "basically saying, 'Sir, you have to get off the plane'," Mr Bridges said. That's when the altercation happened. The four United employees then boarded the plane. "People on the plane were letting them have it," he said. "They were saying you should be ashamed to work for this company."
A few minutes later, the man who was removed from the plane returned, looking dazed and saying he had to get home, Mr Bridges said. Officers followed him to the back of the plane. Another man travelling with students stood up at that point and said they were getting off the plane, Mr Bridges said.
About half of the passengers followed before United told everyone to get off, he said. The man who was originally dragged down the aisle was removed from the plane again, and an announcement said staff had to "tidy up" the aircraft, Mr Bridges said. Mr Bridges' wife told him she saw the man taken away on a stretcher, he said.
After a three-hour delay the flight took off without the man aboard, Mr Bridges said.
Independent News Service