A man was violently removed from a United Airlines flight by aviation police officials at Chicago’s O’Hare international airport on Sunday, in an incident captured on video by several other passengers.
In one clip, posted by passenger Audra Bridges to Facebook, guards can be seen aggressively grabbing, and then dragging, the passenger down the aisle of the plane, which was bound for Louisville, Kentucky. Other passengers can be heard screaming and shouting “Oh my God” and “Look at what you did to him.”
The airline said in a statement that the flight was overbooked, and that no passengers agreed to voluntarily give up their seats. United said airline representatives chose four passengers to leave the plane at random based on ticket class, frequent flier status and check-in time, and that one man selected refused to leave his seat.
Officials then requested the assistance of law enforcement, who forcibly removed the man. Bridges said the seats were being cleared for airline employees on standby who were needed by the airline for shifts in Louisville.
The Chicago aviation department said later that one of the officers did not follow protocol and had been placed on leave pending a review. Federal transportation officials said they were reviewing whether United complied with overbook rules.
Passengers from the flight reported that the man was eventually allowed back on the flight, face bloodied and looking confused. Video seems to confirm that, although the reason why is unclear.
According to Bridges, the man is a doctor and told flight officials he was due for a shift at his hospital.
“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United,” airline CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement to the Guardian. “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.”
In a statement the Chicago police department said that the man became “irate” after he was asked to disembark and that he “fell” when aviation officers “attempted to carry the individual off the flight... His head subsequently struck an armrest causing injuries to his face.”
The airlines contract of carriage, an agreement that all customers assent to when booking, does give United the freedom to deny ticketed passengers travel if a flight is overbooked. Passengers are entitled to either cash or a flight landing near the same time as compensation.
United also reserves the right to remove passengers from a flight if they “fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew”.
The incident comes just a few weeks after another public relations controversy for the airline. In late March, United was accused of sexism for denying boarding to a 10-year-old girl for violating their dress code for “pass riders”. The girl was wearing leggings.