United Airlines' PR Fiasco

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United Airlines’ Ninja-level lesson in how not to do PR went understandably viral on Monday after gate agents thought it a good idea to have the cops drag an apparently recalcitrant passenger off one of their airplanes. It reminded me that I’ve seen this movie. I was in this movie.

It occurred in Chicago around about 2005. I was homeward bound from attending a skydiving competition and for some reason, the flight was overloaded. Or so the gate agent said, at least as I recall it. O’Hare had gotten hammered by weather that morning and the system hadn’t recovered. People were pissed. Gate agents were on short fuses and it was just altogether unpleasant. On the PA, an agent first politely asked for volunteers to deplane and I distinctly remember her saying it was a weight and balance issue, which I thought odd.

Nobody moved. Several more offers were made until she hissed, “This airplane isn’t leaving the gate until four people get off.” The tension in the cabin went off-scale high and I turned to my seatmate and said, “I’m getting off before the riot starts.” On the way out, I collared one of the agents to get me the promised hotel and fare voucher post haste. She did, too. I’m pretty sure it was United. In the terminal, it was utter chaos. It was packed with people, many of whom were screaming at each other and the agents. There is nowhere I need to be so badly to put up with that. Ever. After a restful night in the hotel—sans baggage—I flew home the next morning with an empty seat next to me.

Sunday’s incident looked to me like a replay of my experience, but with no one willing to blink. There’s probably plenty of stink to go around, not the least of which is that the passenger had a role in the outcome. Still, anyone who flies has to remember that for all the gauzy promises in the airline copy, airlines generally care more about their rules than customers. And boy, do they have rules. United’s Contract of Carriage devotes 1205 words and 19 enumerated reasons for tossing passengers off airplanes.

You can be offloaded for wearing leggings (UAL did that last week), for going barefoot, for being drunk, even for farting (item 16). As specified originally in the Warsaw Convention and now the Montreal Convention, airline liability is limited. Perhaps a lawyer more familiar with the Uniform Commercial Code than I am could comment, but I think the airlines enjoy unusually company-centric protection compared to other businesses who contract for services.

So basically, Sunday’s incident was a contract dispute. It had nothing to do with safety, protecting passengers from undue risk or the greater good of anything but the airline’s own narrow interests. They wanted those seats for a crew needed elsewhere. The Contract of Carriage says they can do that. Where it appears to have run off the rails is when the gate personnel decided muscle was necessary and the cop(s) decided force was justified. For a contract dispute. No one apparently had the wisdom or restraint to say, “Wait, this isn’t worth it. Let’s find another way.”

This would be the customer-centric way of handling it, not to mention avoiding the PR turd United has now awarded itself. But, as noted, airlines are contractually protected against being too customer friendly. Your fare doesn’t guarantee you much in the way of customer rights.

I’m wondering if it isn’t time to reconsider that carriage contract and how airlines use it in defense of the annoying, if not abusive, practice of routinely overbooking flights and then jamming up passengers as a result. Overbooking usually works because there are enough people like me who will take the offer and a later flight. But sometimes, you’ll run into a planeload of people who just won’t. Call me crazy, but I think you need a better plan than having the cops drag them off the airplane. And I suspect we don't see more incidents like this because some airlines have such a plan.

Comments (51)

I'm with you. I just made a comment on the subject on Mary Grady's mainline article but I'll repeat some of it here.

Keeping order in the society largely depends upon voluntary individual compliance. When it gets to the point where police have to intervene and it still has to get physical, you've already exceed the bounds of propriety. You didn't hear me say you had to like it or that it might not be right but ... once you go through the doorway of an airliner, you're rights change, as you say. Once this man was told to do something and didn't do it ... HE broke the bounds and is complicit. There are just too many people these days that want everything THEIR way ... THAT is the problem. I have no sympathy for him whatever. Empathy ... maybe?

A fellow passenger on this flight told "the rest of the story." This guy was treated kindly -- at first -- and still refused.

The good doctor escalated the situation when he failed to comply. Seems to me that the PAX briefing I last heard a few weeks ago states that passengers MUST comply with orders they receive from the crew. Maybe this guy didn't think it applied to him?

I grew up in Chicago. Even back during that time as a kid, I learned to NEVER sass a Chicago cop unless you wanted street discipline on the spot. I once entered a patrol car horizontally without flapping my arms. This guy just learned this the hard way. They should have arrested that loud mouthed woman screaming, too. But ... that's me. :-)

Posted by: Larry Stencel | April 11, 2017 11:19 AM    Report this comment

Airlines have become the modern equivalent of what we used to call "The Phone Company" or the pre-breakup Ma Bell. May heaven help you if you ever ran afoul of The Phone Company; they had more power than the IRS!

Just who is the customer here? Sounds like Mr. Munoz is clueless. I will never fly United again.

Posted by: A Richie | April 11, 2017 11:25 AM    Report this comment

I politely suggest that all of the overbooking/standby nonsense should be worked out AT THE GATE. A boarding pass should be a GUARANTEE that your seat is assured. Problem solved / situations avoided.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | April 11, 2017 11:34 AM    Report this comment

FLASH! Just heard on the news. The guy has a HISTORY of aggressive behavior, outbursts and almost lost his medical license over it. Now armed with that information, I hope UAL "eats" this guy.

A UAL pilot was just interviewed on a popular radio talk show and he had a good way of putting the situation which I will remember. He said that non-compliance on the ground can become much more at seven miles altitude where there are fewer options. And, just one drink of "liquid courage" in flight could cross the tipping point for some of these people. Post 9/11, airlines aren't going to put up with it. As I learned in the military ... there's ALWAYS more to every story and there are always two ways to look at every story.


Posted by: Larry Stencel | April 11, 2017 12:01 PM    Report this comment

So much for innocent until proven guilty. This is just like when the police 'accidentally' leak a perp's prior arrest record so he can be tried in the court of public opinion.

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | April 11, 2017 12:32 PM    Report this comment

I always avoid flying on United. They have another game they play with their passengers, especially at their Hubs. If a flight is partially filled, United often will first announce a delay, then more delays and ultimately cancel the flight completely and send the passengers to try to check into a much later flight. Low and behold, everyone from the cancelled flight usually manages to get a seat on the later flight, but of course will arrive at the destination late for any appointments or have missed their connecting flights. Naturally this is of no concern to United! It is a good airline to stay away from.

Posted by: Roger Chudy | April 11, 2017 2:01 PM    Report this comment

When you get on a commercial airline you become cargo with all the rights and privileges of a crate of whoopee cushions. Really, you wait til everyone is on board and then you toss people off? The guy may or may not have deserved the beating but the airline created a readily foreseeable situation and their fall-back plan is to beat the crap out of someone in a crowded airplane? All these years I've been going about customer service from the wrong angle.

Posted by: Richard Montague | April 11, 2017 2:21 PM    Report this comment

Richard, you're just figuring this out now? Difficult customers come right around if you smack them a couple of times with a hammer. Make sure there are no cellphones around.

It really doesn't matter if the passenger was wrong or right; it's now a PR crisis of United's own making. A whisper campaign against the passenger won't turn it around and United would be ill-advised to try it. They're far outside the decision loop.

From a news clip: "In early trading Tuesday morning, United had lost hundreds of millions of dollars in market capital, according to MarketWatch. "How to make a PR crisis a total disaster," was the headline on a CNN story about United's response to the incident."

What would it have cost to vacate just one more seat? $400? $800 more? $10,000 more would have been a bargain to avoid this. That's the lesson management should pass down to the ranks. And that other airlines should also learn. One of the cops was suspended for not following CAP procedures.

I'm sympathetic to flight crews who have to deal with a-holes every day. A tough job. But it sure doesn't seem like this is justified.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 11, 2017 2:42 PM    Report this comment

Again, who is the customer? Imagine ordering a $300 meal at a restaurant, and then when dinner is served on the table the management says "Excuse me sir, but the upcoming next-shift employees need to eat. Now, get up and leave!"

UAL management created this incident of their own making by not putting their customers first. If you need to dead-head a crew to Louisville, then eat the cost and go rent a King Air and fly'em there by gosh. Don't beat up your customer and throw them out. Once boarded you should be good to go. They should have addressed this at the gate and it wouldn't have been as explosive (not excusing the man's reaction; that's a separate issue). Or, maybe they let him board on purpose so they could use the special legal environment of the airplane cabin. Either way, it is management's fault for NOT taking care of customers. Disgusting.

Posted by: A Richie | April 11, 2017 3:08 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I don't understand this line in your piece, "... not the least of which is that the passenger had a role in the outcome." Are we all so compliant that we can't say "no?"

I'm also amazed at the press coverage that dig into this man's negative past--wtf does that have to do with anything!

And, having read the comments, I don't understand how anyone could defend the airline! What they should have done is up the offer until someone accepted, not call the Gestapo!

Posted by: Thomas Reilly | April 11, 2017 3:15 PM    Report this comment

And by the way don't forget you already paid for that $300 meal beforehand with MC/VISA/AMEX!

Posted by: A Richie | April 11, 2017 3:15 PM    Report this comment

If I were to apportion fault here, I would go with 99% United and 1% passenger. The airline, which sold the same seats twice in the first place, even though they keep your money when you don't show, couldn't have done any worse than threatening paying customers with force -- and then applying it.
I have been on boarded, oversold flights coming out of Washington, D.C., on summer Friday evenings, with passengers dreaming about being at the lake, the beach, wherever. In any case, there are never any volunteers... until the ante is right, and then half the hands on the jet go up.
United in this case chose to draw a line in the sand and a PR disaster is the result.
The legacy carriers seem determined to be the death of air travel as we know it. It does not have to be that way. Airlines such as JetBlue, Southwest, and Alaska manage to engender genuine loyalty from their passengers. Delta, American and United seem determined to make high-speed rail and fractional ownership the models for the future.

Posted by: Jerry Fraser | April 11, 2017 3:30 PM    Report this comment

Well, now that I know that rules don't apply or have meaning if I don't agree with them, I guess I'll go hop in my Corvette and drive 100mph around town after I drink a six pack. And, when I get stopped, I'll resist the officer and speed away. I know this OK because it's all about me, me, and me plus I. Are you folks for real? You're letting the emotion of a smart phone video drive your thinking erroneously.

Civilized societies have rules to box people in, make them work well together and hopefully not require extra handling. This guy became "difficult" and so he had to be cajoled with a "hammer" AFTER multiple people tried to reason with him. And, oh by the way, UAL didn't drag him off the airplane, the Chicago Aviation police did. And now some poor guy on that force just trying to do his job and feed HIS family is out of work?

Trying to adjudicate HIS errant behavior by saying "it coulda been handled differently" is Monday morning quarterbacking. Customers DO have rights but they also have RESPONSIBILITIES.

One thing is for sure... this doctor is now on the no fly list. I hope he likes driving everywhere he needs to go. I'm betting that this case will never go to court because of the rules PB listed above. UAL will settle to make the bad PR go away and any good lawyer SHOULD tell the guy HE caused the problem. IF it goes the other way, then we -- as a society -- have a BIG problem on our hands.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | April 11, 2017 3:53 PM    Report this comment

Larry, I don't think anyone is disputing law and order; I agree wholeheartedly if you resist arrest then you go to jail at your own peril (just ask John and Martha King !). The key issue in my opinion is why does a business HAVE to treat its customers like this...like selling the same horse twice to two different people, the game of bumping or overbooking should be prohibited from a legal commerce point of view. Does Amazon or Walmart do that? You can't expect people to be treated this way and enjoy it. So, maybe the ticket price has to go up 5% to compensate; heck, I couldn't even afford ANY tickets until I was over 30, and hitching a ride is not that hard to do! But it'll never happen.

OK Paul, I'll shut up now (I promise). Thanks for the good conversation.

Posted by: A Richie | April 11, 2017 4:17 PM    Report this comment

"Paul, I don't understand this line in your piece, "... not the least of which is that the passenger had a role in the outcome." Are we all so compliant that we can't say "no?"

I take your point, Thomas. What I was trying to say is that the passenger had the choice of fully defusing the situation by simply getting off the airplane when asked. Most of us think United was wrong to ask, but they did and they have the stupid carriage contract and "compliance with flight crew directives" on their side.

I would have taken the offer and deplaned. As Jerry says above, 99 percent on the airline and 1 percent on the passenger. Whoever called the cops instead of upping the offer to get the seats really showed stunningly bad judgement and ought to be canned forthwith, given the amount of money and good will the airline has lost. The cop ought to be fired, too, or at least sanctioned. He was not "just doing the job." That kind of force was not justified unless the passenger swung first, which doesn't appear to be the case.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 11, 2017 4:41 PM    Report this comment

Paul, it was NOT about the overbooking; this was the last straw in the long line of indignities that people have to endure just to actually get seated into an airplane these days! The last straw was to be held hostage in the airplane until the airline could remove you to make room for their "more-important employees".

Passengers have accepted being treated as cattle by the airline, but this event exploded because now they were being removed from the plane like a bag of garbage.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 11, 2017 4:43 PM    Report this comment

The guy got what he deserved. No sympathy here. "Stupid is as stupid does."

Posted by: Thomas Cooke | April 11, 2017 4:50 PM    Report this comment

This mess is already in the third-day cycle of the late shows. Jimmy Kimmel did a biting mock ad:

"We're United Airlines and if we say you fly, you fly. If not, tough s&^t. Capiche? Give us a problem, and we'll drag your ass off the plane. And if you resist, we'll beat you so badly you'll be using your own face as a flotation device."

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 11, 2017 4:52 PM    Report this comment

This whole incident will be forgotten in a day or two. No one cares about this guy. The media will be back on beating up Trump in a heart beat.

Posted by: Thomas Cooke | April 11, 2017 4:57 PM    Report this comment

Restaurants and hotels overbook, too. But once you're seated or in bed, they don't attempt to un-seat or un-bed you... that I'm aware of... UAL was fully within their rights... to exercise their foolish and ill-considered policy. Maybe they'll take my advice from my earlier post. More likely, I'll grow mammaries and sell milk.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | April 11, 2017 5:29 PM    Report this comment

Whole or skim?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 11, 2017 6:02 PM    Report this comment

If they didn't get any volunteers at the gate why board the airplane, then go for the random selection method?

I don't understand the logic of boarding passengers knowing four will have to get off.

Posted by: Joshua Waters | April 11, 2017 6:23 PM    Report this comment

It's incidents like this that keep fractional and charter pilots employed! Unbelievable!

Posted by: matthew wagner | April 11, 2017 6:27 PM    Report this comment

So United tosses off a fare paying passenger plus 3 other "volunteer" passengers to make room for 4 Non Revenue crew (deadheading) desperately needed at the flight's destination.
Flight was not oversold. Poor crew scheduling on the part of United Airlines. How much would it have cost to charter a small turboprop to fly the crew to their destination if so desperately needed and avoid this PR Fiasco.

"FLY THE not so Friendly Skies of United. I think not.
I worked in the airline business for over 10 years and United was a lot nicer airline then. My how times have changed. Very sad.

Posted by: MICHAEL GHENT | April 11, 2017 7:08 PM    Report this comment

Considering source, skim.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 11, 2017 7:48 PM    Report this comment

Offer ME a grand and a first class hotel room at O'Hare and... I'm outta there. Especially if there's beer iinvolved.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | April 11, 2017 8:26 PM    Report this comment

The news reported tonight that 4 senators 9 2 from each side) have questioned the CEO of United and are looking into it. Hopefully some changes will be mandated..

Posted by: Carlos Rodriguez | April 12, 2017 1:32 AM    Report this comment

The senators will puff up for getting some TV air time and do what senators do. Do nothing and shake the airlines down for campaign contributions. People will take cheap seats even if it is on Bubba's Airline and Bait Shop. UAL knows this; as do all the others. The cheap seat customers have to take what ever crap the airlines deal out. Don't like it, go first class, fractional, charter or for us pilots, GA. If you have a $300 seat and get treated like a box of whoopie cushions, so be it. The object is to get from point A to point B as cheaply and quickly as possible. Nasty crew, no problem, miserable seats, no problem, dirty planes no problem. Ever ride the subway in NYC or Boston? You get the picture.

Bottom line is the airlines know that they can treat us cattle car passengers poorly and still make $. Just like the MBTA can treat riders like crap and still have full trains at busy hours. To the airline management, we are just a box of whoopie cushions.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | April 12, 2017 9:02 AM    Report this comment

It would have been much cheaper for United to hire a jet ( or a beat up Cessna trainer) to fly their deadheading aircrew to where they were meant to be.
But a lot less fun for the sadists who seem to make up the majority of gate and cabin crews these days.
And, there is the question of why they chose the Chinese looking guy?
Once he is compos mentis, and sitting in a lawyers office, United the lost capital on the stock market will look like peanuts -- incomprehensible small print not withstanding.
It always slightly amuses me too just how much professional pilots hate living near the airport where they work.

Posted by: John Patson | April 12, 2017 9:55 AM    Report this comment

Did any of you see the YouTube video, United breaks guitars? Now they can have a new one,
United breaks your face. How does the random passenger selection process work anyway?
When I fly commercial my ticket is usually booked 3 months in advance. I would think that this
should insure me of a seat by letting them have my money so far in advance. United,you are now
on my personal no fly list. Well done!

Posted by: Ric Lee | April 12, 2017 10:12 AM    Report this comment

It's amazing. United has taken the thunder out of China, Syria, Russia, Trump, Putin, North Korea. Stay focused 'Merica. Now where I leave my keys?

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 12, 2017 10:13 AM    Report this comment

Airlines can avoid situations like this by empowering front-line employees -- gate agents and cabin crews who deal with passengers -- to make offers that will free up the necessary seats. I hate getting bumped but believe me I have my not-unreasonable price, and I am convinced that the number of passengers on a given jet who feel the same way will exceed the number of overbooked seats -- certainly on a flight to Louisville.
As a footnote, airlines have become so addicted to ancillary revenue -- i.e., fees -- that they're blind, in a business sense, to what is supposed to be their core competency, which is, as Leo notes, getting passengers from Point A to Point B. Hopefully, this will remind Oscar Munoz and others of the mission.

Posted by: Jerry Fraser | April 12, 2017 10:26 AM    Report this comment

I don't know how accurate this is, but I heard a report that said when it comes to involuntary denial of boarding, the airlines have a pecking order. At the top of the list of the frequent flyers, business fares and expensive seats and obviously, first class. At the bottom are a range of Y-class fares, probably sorted by price and/or frequency of flight.

I think what's needed is a revision in the legislation that allows airlines to do this, but not other businesses. I wonder if they have this special status because of "safety concerns." Passengers deserve a set of more basic protections and rights.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 12, 2017 10:53 AM    Report this comment

" Passengers deserve a set of more basic protections and rights"

How about just common courteously? This gentleman paid his ticket for a certain service, for a certain time, for a certain location. Simply honor the ticket. Simple as that.

This is why I refuse to fly commercial. You pay a few grand for a service and the airlines think they are doing you a favor as they treat you like cattle. Between the airlines and the TSA, I've had enough.

And on top of that, you've got Mr. Stencel and Mr. Cook rooting for jack-booted-thugs handing out wooden shampoos. No thanks. You and your brown shirts can have the plane to yourselves.

Posted by: Robert Ore | April 12, 2017 11:46 AM    Report this comment

Overbooking has been going on as long as the major airlines have been flying. It is becoming more prevelent now that the airlines fly close to full capacity all the time. I can't tell you how many times I have been on a flight where they bargained with a few passengers to surrender their seats. Usually it works when the cash reward climbs high enough, but I have seen a few cases where the lucky passenger gets asked to leave. United dwells at the bottom of the quality ratings for airlines and has for years. Even the merger with Continental (a very good airline) could not shake them from their crappy attitude toward passengers.

In this day of highly sophsticated computer systems, I have to believe there is a better way to solve the problem of overbooking. The issue should be addressed at the check in counter and not on the plane. Once you have a boarding pass, you should be guaranteed a seat. As others have said, if the crew needed to be at the destination, charter a plane and fly them there. That would have been far cheaper than the mess they have stirred up with this one. Jimmy Kimmel's United commercial was very funny and way too close to the truth.

Posted by: John McNamee | April 12, 2017 12:25 PM    Report this comment

I heard on a local public radio show yesterday that the airlines are limited BY STATUTE to only go as high as offering $1,350 (plus hotel etc.) to entice someone to volunteer. For the cynics the radio host mused that the airlines probably asked for that limit just so they could say "We'd love to offer you more but legally can't" and still limit their out of pocket.

Posted by: Charlie Hopkins | April 12, 2017 12:54 PM    Report this comment

Airlines peacefully booted 40,000 people off of airplanes due to overbooking last year. But more than 10 times that -- 434,000 people -- accepted the cash & perks. One unruly guy out of all of those folks (.0002%) causes this outrage. "In 2016, US airlines had a bumping rate of 0.62 per 10,000 passengers, the lowest since 1995." "In 2016, for example, Delta had the most voluntary denied boardings of any U.S. airline -- 129,825 passengers who volunteered to be bumped." "Effective in 2011, airline travelers involuntarily bumped from a flight were eligible for double the amount they were previously. The compensation passengers are eligible for is now up to $1,350, depending on the value of their ticket and the length of time they have to wait for another flight."

Posted by: Larry Stencel | April 12, 2017 2:14 PM    Report this comment

United evidently has not learned from an earlier PR nightmare. Back in 2008, Dave Carroll and his band from Nova Scotia were flying on United to a concert in Omaha with a change of planes at O'Hare. At the Chicago airport, United ramp agents proceeded to break Dave's custom made Taylor guitar. After repeated efforts to get United to replace the broken guitar he decided to write a song about it. It is called United Breaks Guitars and is available a song for only $0.99. If you Google United Breaks Guitars you can watch a free You Tube video of the song. It is a good listen and is quite embarrassing to United Airlines

Posted by: WILLIAM HEMME | April 12, 2017 8:09 PM    Report this comment

The very existence of the company which now calls itself United Airlines is owed to a chain of corruption rarely seen outside of autocracies and kleptocracies. The existing team is made up of jerks and animals who saw how they "won" the merger game, and their victims from continental who lost. This in spite of the latter doing it right and the former having run their zoo into bankruptcy.

Here's the thing, the airlines, in cahoots with the FAA and tort bar, destroyed the solution to United's problem. Hire a plane for your crew, if you can find one. You can't? It's not because the economics of energy, maintenance, and labor that you can't. It's not because the airlines are so much better value that you can't.

Don't get me started on bad management and employee relations issues that caused the crew problems in the first place.


Posted by: Eric Warren | April 12, 2017 9:39 PM    Report this comment

Okay, I'm back.

It's a FIVE HOUR DRIVE! Put the employees in a van! Was this considered? Doubt it.

Also, I'm doubting the law prevents United from offering $1350 cash AND a bus ticket. You think they offered that? Nope.

Posted by: Eric Warren | April 12, 2017 9:56 PM    Report this comment

Here's the law regarding compensation for bumping - it's in the FARs:

14 CFR 250.5 - Amount of denied boarding compensation for passengers denied boarding involuntarily.

S 250.5 Amount of denied boarding compensation for passengers denied boarding involuntarily.
(a) Subject to the exceptions provided in S 250.6, a carrier to whom this part applies as described in S 250.2 shall pay compensation in interstate air transportation to passengers who are denied boarding involuntarily from an oversold flight as follows:

(1) No compensation is required if the carrier offers alternate transportation that, at the time the arrangement is made, is planned to arrive at the airport of the passenger's first stopover, or if none, the airport of the passenger's final destination not later than one hour after the planned arrival time of the passenger's original flight;

(2) Compensation shall be 200% of the fare to the passenger's destination or first stopover, with a maximum of $675, if the carrier offers alternate transportation that, at the time the arrangement is made, is planned to arrive at the airport of the passenger's first stopover, or if none, the airport of the passenger's final destination more than one hour but less than two hours after the planned arrival time of the passenger's original flight; and

(3) Compensation shall be 400% of the fare to the passenger's destination or first stopover, with a maximum of $1,350, if the carrier does not offer alternate transportation that, at the time the arrangement is made, is planned to arrive at the airport of the passenger's first stopover, or if none, the airport of the passenger's final destination less than two hours after the planned arrival time of the passenger's original flight.

* * * * *

So, if the airline bumps you and gets you to your destination some other way within an hour of when you would've arrived... no compensation.

But they have to give you 200% of the ticket price (up to a max of $675) if they get you to your destination within 1-2 hours of planned arrival.

And they must pay you 400% of the ticket price (up to $1350) if you're going to be more than two hours late arriving.

No mention is made as to class of service. So, if you pay for First Class, get bumped, and end up in Coach but still arrive within an hour, does the airline owe you anything?

The airlines are free to pay as much as they want. But these are the minimum limits. It's of cynical interest how the airlines never start at these numbers. They'll start the "bidding" at $200 and hope most people don't know the law.

Plus, the law is in regards to people "denied boarding". Let the lawyers parse the definition of "boarding" - if a person has been seated, but the plane hasn't taken off, have they "boarded"? Is a person considered "boarded" once their butt hits the seat, or after the cabin door is closed? Once "boarded", can a passenger be legally bumped?

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | April 13, 2017 5:42 AM    Report this comment

One problem with the way the airlines go about bumping passengers is how they offer compensation. Most passengers may not know their full rights, but most do know that the airline always starts out with a low-ball offer (usually $200) and then raises the offer until they get enough takers. So, it turns into a game of "let's make a deal", that ends with required bumping if necessary. Apparently United stopped at $800, plus hotel before pulling the plug. I have to believe that going higher would have convinced a few more people to accept the offer.

Eric Warren, you must have been on the inside of the merger to see what actually happened. Contrary to popular belief, Continental acquired United. But after all the backroom tricks were pulled, it appeared the opposite was true. Former Continental CEO Gordon Bethune (beloved by his employees), had the opportunity to merge with United several years earlier, but decided against it. Unfortunately, his replacement, Jeff Smisek fell into the trap. Had they kept the corporate headquarters in Houston, it might have turned out different. But, the City of Chicago made a bunch of promises to Smisek to move, so he did. In the end, none of the promises were ever fulfilled and we now have the mess known as United Airlines. The current CEO, Munoz, is from the railroad industry and is totally clueless about customer relations or running a good airline. He needs to go, and be replaced by someone who would force true change on a bankrupt management mentality. Unfortunately not likely to happen. Maybe Warren Buffett, a major shareholder in UC Holdings, can get their attention and force some changes.

Posted by: John McNamee | April 13, 2017 11:03 AM    Report this comment

Kirk, do you know if the "fare" is defined as just for the leg of the flight or the entire flight? In other words, if it was a $400 total fare and the leg I;m bumped from is $200, does that become the fare?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | April 13, 2017 11:52 AM    Report this comment

The $1350 there to be a statutory limit on what a customer can legally expect from the carrier. There's nothing in the world that (legally) bars said carrier from offering more. That's the foundation of private enterprise. Period.

Posted by: William Pace | April 13, 2017 2:13 PM    Report this comment

Just for the record...United Express Flight (in fact Republic Airlines) # 3411 ORD-SDF was a Embraer 170 regional jet (6 first class seats, 64 coach class seats). It is "marketed by United Airlines, but operated by Republic Airlines". United Airlines does the passenger checkin and baggage handling.
United Airlines flies roughly 86,000,000 passenger annually During 2016 had 62,895 voluntary denied boarding passengers and 3,765 involuntary passengers denied boarding. Of all the U.S. passengers overbooked on all airlines 8.6% were involuntary denied boarding.

No, I don't work for United Airlines or Republic Airlines.

Posted by: Michael Weidhaas | April 13, 2017 5:29 PM    Report this comment

Adding to my comments above, Republic Airlines needed 4 crewmembers in SDF to run a flight the next day SDF-EWR (Republic Airlines is the only non-stop airline between those two cities),...
hmmm 4 crew members - two up front and two in back (remember their Embraer regional jets seat 70 passengers)....why is all of the blame on United Airlines crew scheduling ?

Again, I don't work for United Airlines or Republic Airlines

Posted by: Michael Weidhaas | April 13, 2017 5:41 PM    Report this comment

Michael, great info, thanks. Goes good with what I found out, too ... which mostly applied to Delta at ATL.

So that's 62,895 voluntary denied boarding / 86,000,000 carried = 0.073%
3,765 involuntary denied boarding / 86,000,000 carried = 0.0044%

So if the percentage of passengers overbooked and involuntarily denied boarding on ALL airlines is 8.6% but UAL's involuntary denied boarding was only 0.0044%, I'd say UAL has a pretty big problem ... we better get the Government and Congress involved to fix a problem we don't really have.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | April 13, 2017 9:23 PM    Report this comment

If directed to leave an airliner, what would your choice be:

1) talk to your lawyer on the phone, tell them to sue, and then create a scene violently resisting the officer and squealing like a pig for the benefit of the witnesses after telling the cop he'll have to drag you out, or

2) leave the aircraft like a mature adult and sue for breach of contract damages if any.

Posted by: Greg Goodknight | April 14, 2017 1:34 AM    Report this comment

If directed to leave an aircraft, should one do the following:

1) talk to your lawyer on the phone, tell them to sue, and then create a scene violently resisting the officer and squealing like a pig for the benefit of the witnesses after telling the cop he'll have to drag you out;

2) leave the aircraft like a mature adult and sue for breach of contract damages.

Posted by: Greg Goodknight | April 14, 2017 1:35 AM    Report this comment

INC brings out the legal distinction between what we have all been yammering about and what apparently actually happened ... the flight was not overbooked, but rather, the airline wanted to bump paying passengers for other passengers they preferred more: a company flight crew. The former (tossing the overbooked) is permissible, but the latter (preferring one passenger over another on a non-overbooked fight) is not.

This question, discriminating between passengers were the less preferred passenger had a confirmed seat, and the more preferred passenger did not has been litigated and there is a private cause of action against the airline for improper discrimination. This was before a substantial re-write of 49 USC though and the specific case was litigated under state law (Mendelson v. TWA, 466 N.Y.S.2d 168 (1983)).

In fairness, though I don't see the direct reading of 14 CFR 250.2a as directly supporting the conclusion that INC draws in their article. There may be agency administrative decisions that support the conclusion, but the article doesn't mention them Nonetheless, and interesting piece; here is the URL:


Posted by: DON HUDDLER | April 14, 2017 10:37 AM    Report this comment

Lol, if that's the law, it must have been written by an airline lobbyist.

If you're paying attention around Houston, you've heard lots of stories about the merger. I'm a skeptical guy, but the shear volume of accusations is amazing. Financial reports were slanted to drop Continental stock to create a leverage opportunity. The merger would be stopped by the Feds unless the whole thing became a reverse merger and saved the Chicago unions and jobs came from every direction (Chicago, New York, Washington, Unions, Banks, and an alphabet soup of bureaucracies. Payoffs for C level players... etc. etc.

Posted by: Eric Warren | April 16, 2017 12:12 AM    Report this comment

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