CHICAGO (CBSNewYork/CBS Chicago/AP) — Video shows three security officials dragging a male passenger from United Airlines Flight 3411 to Louisville that the airline said was overbooked as it waited to depart from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
As CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported, the chief executive officer of United has apologized and is calling for an internal investigation. Meanwhile, a security officers involved in removing the man has been placed on leave.
Passenger Audra D. Bridges posted the video on Facebook after the incident Sunday evening. It shows the guards grabbing the screaming man from a window seat and pulling him across the armrest before dragging him down the airplane aisle by his arms.
Another passenger posted a video of the incident on Twitter.
The man could be heard screaming when the officers grabbed him, and then he went silent as he was dragged down the aisle, his glasses knocked down his face, and his shirt riding up his torso, CBS Chicago reported.
Other passengers are heard saying: “Please, my God. What are you doing? No! This is wrong! Oh my God! Look at what you did to him!” and “Busted his lip!”
Apparently bleeding from the incident, the man somehow got back on the plane a short time later, repeatedly saying, “I have to go home,” as he ran up the aisle to the back of the plane.
Audra Bridges, of Louisville, told The (Louisville) Courier-Journal that after the passengers had boarded the flight to Louisville, Kentucky, they were told that four volunteers were needed to give up their seats for stand-by United employees who needed to be in Louisville on Monday for a flight. She said they were told the flight wouldn’t depart until the employees were seated.
“Normal announcement – ‘Plane’s oversold, we’re offering $400 vouchers, we need some volunteers,’” added Audra Bridges’ husband, Tyler Bridges.
But there were no takers, and Audra Bridges said after the flight was filled, passengers were told four people needed to give up their seats so United employees on standby could get to Louisville for another flight on Monday.
Passengers were told the plane would not take off until those airline employees had seats. United then offered $800 and a hotel stay to volunteers, but no one accepted, and a manager picked four people at random, according to Audra Bridges.
Tyler Bridges said initially, the man would not go and at least two security guards tried to reason calmly with him. Then a third guard came.
“He kind of came on in a more aggressive manner, walks right up to the guy, kind of points at him, says: ‘Hey. you’re getting off the plane! You have to get off the plane!’ Grabs him — the man kind of resists all he can,” Tyler Bridges said. “(The officer) grabs him and pulls him off the seat, and you see the man hit his head on the armrest. And they – it looked like he was knocked unconscious.”
But incredibly, it did not end there. Passengers said the man later ran back onto the plane and was seemingly frantic, saying he was doctor and repeatedly saying: “I have to get home!”
“So he runs to the back of the plane,” Tyler Bridges said. “And officers follow him there, stop, and kind of corner him in the stewardess gallery at the very back of the plane.”
Audra Bridges said passengers were told a computer selected four people to leave the flight. One couple was selected and left the plane before the man was confronted.
“Everyone was shocked and appalled,” she said. “There were several children on the flight as well that were very upset.”
A witness who was on the flight says the man who was removed said he needed to see his patients in the morning, which is why he didn’t want to give up his seat.
Coverage from CBS Chicago — Vince Gerasole Reports:
United CEO Oscar Munoz issued a statement apologizing for the incident.
“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. 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,” Munoz said. “We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”
Munoz also sent a letter to United employees Monday night about the incident. He provided a full breakdown of the events that led up to the man being removed from the plane.
“Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this,” Munoz wrote. “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 the letter that the man was told he was “denied boarding,” and that he “raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions.”
Munoz wrote further that the man was approached a few more times and asked to get off the lane, and “each time he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent.”
The CEO wrote that Chicago Department of Aviation security officers had to come in because United staff were left with no choice, and that the officers only physically removed the man from the flight when he went on refusing to leave.
Earlier, United spokesman Charlie Hobart also said explained airline employees named four customers who had to leave the plane and that three of them did so. He said law enforcement was called when the fourth person refused to get off the plane.
“We followed the right procedures,” Hobart told the Associated Press in a phone interview. “That plane had to depart. We wanted to get our customers to their destinations, and when one gentleman refused to get off the aircraft, we had to call the Chicago Police Department.”
Both the Chicago Police Department and the Aviation Department security force handle law enforcement at Chicago airports. The officers who came on board were from the Aviation Department rather than the Police Department.
Travel experts said the incident amounted to a public relations nightmare for United, but passengers have to follow the law.
“No matter what happened, once they told that guy he had to get off the plane — even if the airline was wrong or inappropriate — for him to disobey that order does violate a federal law,” CBS News travel expert Peter Greenberg told CBS2’s Dick Brennan.
Passengers getting bumped because of overbooked flights is not at all uncommon. In fact, it happened 40,000 on U.S. flights last year. But another travel expert told CBS2’s Layton that in this case, United made a cluster of mistakes leading to a really messy situation.
Travel expert Pete Trabucco said even though paying passengers get bumped on full flights every day, United handled the incident the wrong way.
“First of all, you never, ever put the entire passenger group on board if you are still over four or five seats,” Trabucco said. “They used a lot of force, which was unnecessary.”
CBS2’s Layton also showed the video to people at Newark Liberty International Airport, where United has a hub. They were all appalled.
“Oh that’s terrible,” one traveler said.
“I would never fly with United ever again … shame on you!” another said.
Hobart said he didn’t know how the airline compensated the passengers who were forced to deplane.
The flight was delayed two hours as a result of the incident.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)