CHICAGO (CBS) — The head of the Chicago City Council’s aviation committee wants to call United Airlines and Chicago Department of Aviation representatives on the carpet to answer questions about why a passenger was dragged off a flight at O’Hare Airport on Sunday, and a congressman has suggested new federal legislation might be needed.
The crew on United flight 3411 was trying to make room for four employees of a partner airline who needed to get to Louisville by Monday morning to crew another flight, and had asked for four volunteers to give up their seats. When they couldn’t get any volunteers to give up their seats, United picked four passengers at random to be removed from the flight, but one man refused to give up his seat, and the airline called security to help remove him. A Chicago Department of Aviation security officer hauled the man out of his seat, and dragged him down the aisle by his arms.
Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) has said the the City Council Committee on Aviation will hold a public hearing on the incident on Thursday at City Hall, and his office has called on United Airlines and Chicago Department of Aviation representatives to testify.
RELATED: United Says Man Dragged Off Overbooked Flight Was Acting ‘Belligerent’ | Chicago Aviation Officer Placed On Leave After Dragging Man Off Plane | United Airlines Apologizes After Man Dragged Off Overbooked Flight
Passengers posted videos of the incident on social media as a Chicago Department of Aviation officer forcibly removed the man from his seat and dragged him off the plane by his arms. The officer has since been placed on leave, and the department has said his actions “are obviously not condoned.”
United CEO Oscar Munoz has said the incident was “an upsetting event to all of us here at United,” but has defended the flight crew’s actions.
“As you will read, this situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago Aviation Security Officers to help. Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right,” Munoz said in a letter to employees on Monday.
United Airlines said Monday the flight had been overbooked, but on Tuesday, a United spokesman told USA Today all 70 seats on the plane were filled, but the flight was not overbooked. Instead, it decided to remove four passengers to accommodate crew members who were considered “‘must-ride’ passengers” who needed to be in Louisville on Monday for a “downline connection.”
For years, those officers have said they should be able to carry guns to help guard against potential terrorist threats, but Zalewski said after aviation officers dragged a man off United Airlines flight 3411 on Sunday when he refused to get off on his own, the idea of arming the city aviation security force is likely dead.
Meantime, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) has suggested federal laws regarding such situations might need to be changed. In a Facebook post, he called the video of the passenger being dragged off the plane “unsettling.”
“United failed in this instance, without a doubt. Many of us who fly frequently have experienced overbooking situations, but obviously how it was handled in this circumstance was unacceptable, and no passenger should ever be put through what this individual was,” he wrote. “It appears that the boarding system broke down at many levels, and I expect to hear soon from the Department of Transportation, United, and the Chicago Department of Aviation about what occurred, how they’ll prevent it from occurring again, and who will be held accountable. As someone who has advocated for passengers being afforded better consumer protections by airlines, this may be a case where we have to legislate appropriate action and recourse, because what occurred over the weekend can never happen again.”
The fine print for United Airlines’ “contract of carriage” whenever passengers book a flight includes the right to force passengers to give up their seats when flights are oversold. According to the contract language, the airline must first ask for volunteers to give up their seats, in exchange for travel vouchers, but can deny boarding to passengers if they don’t volunteer to take another flight.
Federal law requires airlines to offer passengers up to four times the cost of the fare to their next stop, up to $1,350, if the airline can’t make arrangements for them to get to their next stopover or final destination less than two hours after their original flight.
Passengers on Sunday’s flight said they were offered up to $800 to give up their seats. Without knowing the fare paid for Sunday’s flight, it’s unclear if $800 was the most United was required to offer passengers.