Airlines Couldn’t Bump Passengers Under Proposed Maryland Legislation
WASHINGTON, DC Viral video of United Airlines passenger who suffered a concussion, broken nose and other injuries when he was forcibly removed from a Chicago-to-Louisville flight on Sunday, April 9, by aviation security officers ignited a week’s worth of customer backlash for the airlines, and has fliers and elected officials including Maryland’s Sen. Chris Van Hollen and state Sen. Jim Rosapepe questioning whether an airline should have the right to bump a paying passenger off a flight. Dr. David Dao was one of four people randomly chosen to be bumped from United flight 3411 out of O’Hare International Airport so that airline employees could fly. Dao refused to give up his seat because he needed to return to Kentucky to see patients the next day, according to his lawyer. A Chicago airport security officer who helped drag a United Airlines passenger off a plane by his arms, bloodying his lip as horrified passengers protested and recorded the episode on their smartphones April 9 at O’Hare International Airport, was placed on leave.
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Both lawmakers say they are working on bills to forbid airlines from removing passengers from planes, an action U.S. airlines do routinely, although usually without physical altercations like the one in Chicago. While federal law prohibits smoking on flights and other actions, many rules are left to airlines
to determine and enforce, and passengers agree to those terms in a contract of carriage when they buy a ticket, USA Today reports. Dao was one of four people randomly chosen to be bumped from the Chicago-to-Louisville flight so that airline employees could fly. Dao was forcibly dragged down the plane’s aisle by the Chicago Aviation Police when he refused to give up his seat. Three officers have been placed on administrative leave as the Chicago Department of Aviation, which oversees the airport security force, reviews their roles in the incident.
Senator Jim Rosapepe (D, College Park) said Monday he is drafting state legislation to bar Maryland Transportation Authority Police from doing the same at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, if the ticketed passenger is not a threat to public safety.
“This is about common decency and fair play,” said Rosapepe in a statement. “If the airline wants to use a seat you’ve paid for — and are sitting in — they should pay you fair market value for it, not commandeer local law enforcement to haul you away.”
He said his state bill complements Van Hollen’s (D, Md) Customers Not Cargo Act of 2017, which would amend federal law to protect passengers across the country. Van Hollen’s bill would prohibit airlines from forcibly removing passengers from airplanes when there is no public safety threat. Instead, airlines must provide sufficient incentives to encourage passengers to voluntarily deplane, he said. While United officials reportedly offered passengers on its overbooked flight $800 to give up their seats, not enough did, which led to police removing Dao, an action Van Hollen said “should never happen.”
“It is outrageous that airlines can bodily remove passengers after boarding rather than providing sufficient incentives to encourage volunteers,” Van Hollen wrote in a letter to other senators urging them to co-sponsor his legislation. “Airlines should resolve these common overbooking issues prior to boarding. I hope you ll join me in introducing the Customers Not Cargo Act, which would direct the Department of Transportation to update the oversales rule (14 CFR Part 250) to prohibit airlines from doing what United did to Dr. Dao this week. Instead, airlines would have to offer sufficient incentives to attract volunteers, and do so before boarding whenever practicable. This narrowly-targeted update would protect the rights and dignity of passengers while ensuring that airlines retain flexibility to manage over sales.”
In the wake of the United debacle, the airline has announced it will no longer use local police to enforce their business interests rather than public safety. Delta has raised compensation to voluntarily bumped passengers to up to $10,000.
The state bill will be introduced the next time the Maryland General Assembly meets, either in special session or in next January. The country’s largest airlines American, Delta, Southwest and United have similar contracts of carriage that may keep passengers from boarding:
- who are barefoot or not properly clothed
- who have or cause a malodorous condition
- who appear to be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs to the degree that they could endanger other passengers or crew members.
- who are unable to sit in a single seat with the seat belt properly secured or are unable to put down armrests between seats for an entire flight.
As Dao was pulled down the aisle, one passenger exclaimed, “Can’t United rent a car for the (employees) to get to Louisville?” Another passenger pointed out, “You busted his lip” after Chicago airport police grabbed him. Several videos were posted to social media. In one, blood can be seen forming on the man’s lip and his eyeglasses are askew. United CEO Oscar Munoz sent a lengthy letter by email to United employees praising and defending them, which only added fuel to the national firestorm over the company’s handling of the situation, and raised more questions about the authority airlines have to bump unwilling passengers.
“Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this,” Munoz said in the email, which was posted to social media. “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.”
Jayse D. Anspach, of Louisville, who was seated just a few feet from the man, posted this video to Twitter.
Audra D. Bridges told the Louisville Courier-Journal Dao said three airport security police surrounded the man, who screamed when they grabbed him and wrenched him out of the seat. “We are all shaky and so disgusted,” Bridges wrote on her Facebook page.
Cello Forces Vienna Musician Off Flight, But Airline Changes Its Tune: A Vienna, Virginia, man was told his cello was a flight risk. But after a Facebook video, American Airlines booked him and the cello another flight.
Image by Audra D. Bridges used with permission
- ^ forcibly removed from a Chicago (patch.com)
- ^ Get Patch s daily newsletter and real-time news alerts, or like us on Facebook. (patch.com)
- ^ download the free Patch app (itunes.apple.com)
- ^ rules are left to airlines (www.usatoday.com)
- ^ randomly chosen to be bumped (patch.com)
- ^ have been placed on administrative leave (patch.com)
- ^ airport security police surrounded the man (www.courier-journal.com)
- ^ Cello Forces Vienna Musician Off Flight, But Airline Changes Its Tune (patch.com)
- ^ 2 Girls Denied Boarding For Wearing Leggings: (patch.com)