United Passenger “Removal”: A Reporting and Management Fail

As disturbing as is the now widely-discussed incident of the brute force removal of a 69 year old doctor from a United flight last week, equally troubling is the poor job the press has done on such a high profile and relatively simple story. We’ll go over some of the glaring and regular errors as well as troubling oversights before turning to another puzzlingly under-examined issue: what this incident says about management at United. And we don’t mean arrogance and tone-deafness.

Reporting Failures

Widespread misreporting of the cause of the incident as “overbooking”. It would be difficult to figure out how to construct a reasonable sample, from reading a large number of accounts of the incident, a substantial majority, which I would guesstimate as being in the 75% range, refer to the cause of United’s perceived need to eject the elderly passenger, Dr. David Dao, as “overbooking”. Confirming this impression is that that four Senators and Governor Chris Christie, when weighing in on the incident, all referred to it as the result of overbooking or overselling.

Overbooking is a capacity management practice of selling more tickets for a particular flight than there are actual seats. Airlines do that because they have sufficient experience with the level of no-shows and late-in-the-game rebookings to not wind up with oversold flights all that often.

In fact, as careful readers know, United wanted to free up four seats so that crew members could fly to from O’Hare to Louisville. The excuse for United’s urgency was that if these crew members didn’t get to their flight, it would create cascading delays. Early accounts can be excused for this error, since the initial tweets with the appalling videos described the cause as overbooking. But any article published more than 24 hours after the story broke has no excuse for getting this basic and important detail wrong, particularly after United CEO Oscar Munoz said the flight was indeed not overbooked.

This widespread misreporting has the unfortunate effect of making United’s abuse seem like a disastrous handling of a routine problem when it was much worse than that. For instance, Amy Davidson of the New Yorker gets this wrong even with the knowledge that United decided to bump passengers to seat crew:

United overbooked it; that happens all the time. The airline let everybody board, and then decided that it needed four more seats to get some crew members to Louisville for work the next morning.

Let us underscore: even putting aside the violence, what happened in this case does NOT happen all the time, and that has legal implications.

Absence of reporting on airline regulations leads to widespread skewing of story in United’s favor. Even though most readers may think United is getting beaten up aplenty in the press, in fact it is getting a virtual free pass as far as its rights to remove a paying passenger with a confirmed seat who has been seated.1 This seems to reflect the deep internalization in America of deference to authority in the post 9/11 world, as well as reporters who appear to be insufficiently inquisitive. And there also seems to be a widespread perception that because it’s United’s plane, it can do what it sees fit. In fact, airlines are regulated and United is also bound to honor its own agreements.

It is telling, in not a good way, that Naked Capitalism reader Uahsenaa found a better discussion of the legal issues on Reddit than Lambert and I have yet to see in the media and the blogosphere (including from sites that profess to be knowledgeable about aviation):

Lawyer here. This myth that passengers don’t have rights needs to go away, ASAP. You are dead wrong when saying that United legally kicked him off the plane.

First of all, it’s airline spin to call this an overbooking. The statutory provision granting them the ability to deny boarding is about “OVERSALES”, specifically defines as booking more reserved confirmed seats than there are available. This is not what happened. They did not overbook the flight; they had a fully booked flight, and not only did everyone already have a reserved confirmed seat, they were all sitting in them. The law allowing them to denying boarding in the event of an oversale does not apply.

Even if it did apply, the law is unambiguously clear that airlines have to give preference to everyone with reserved confirmed seats when choosing to involuntarily deny boarding. They have to always choose the solution that will affect the least amount of reserved confirmed seats. This rule is straightforward, and United makes very clear in their own contract of carriage that employees of their own or of other carriers may be denied boarding without compensation because they do not have reserved confirmed seats. On its face, it’s clear that what they did was illegal– they gave preference to their employees over people who had reserved confirmed seats, in violation of 14 CFR 250.2a.

Furthermore, even if you try and twist this into a legal application of 250.2a and say that United had the right to deny him boarding in the event of an overbooking; they did NOT have the right to kick him off the plane. Their contract of carriage highlights there is a complete difference in rights after you’ve boarded and sat on the plane, and Rule 21 goes over the specific scenarios where you could get kicked off. NONE of them apply here. He did absolutely nothing wrong and shouldn’t have been targeted. He’s going to leave with a hefty settlement after this fiasco.

His analysis checks out. “14 CFR 250.2a” is an FAA regulation. Here is what is says per a Cornell law school site, which courteously supplies links to definitions of key terms:

§ 250.2a Policy regarding denied boarding.

In the event of an oversold flight, every carrier shall ensure that the smallest practicable number of persons holding confirmed reserved space on that flight are denied boarding involuntarily.

So the lawyer who popped up on Reddit looks to be on solid ground in saying it was an FAA violation to try to kick off a confirmed passenger in favor of crew.

Similarly, if you look at the relevant part of United’s Contract of Carriage, which indeed is Rule 21, “Refusal of Transport,” you will see a remarkably long list of situations and types of passengers, including “have or cause a malodorous condition (other than individuals qualifying as disabled), those who violate United’s policies regarding voice calls, and pregnant women in their ninth month, unless they have a recent doctor’s note (pray tell, since when are airline personnel expert in determining how far along a pregnant woman is?). And again you see nothing remotely like a “we need the seat for business reasons” or a catchall “because we feel like it”.

Astonishingly, a USA Today story, United Airlines can remove you from a flight for dozens of reasons you agree to, where the reporter was alert enough to consider United’s legal position and even mentioned the contract of carriage, spun the piece completely in United’s favor. Not only did the author apparently fail to read the relevant section, his sources gave the Big Corporate Lie that United must be right. From the article:

“Those contracts are well thought through. They are generally fair and balanced, and they reflect the market,” said Roy Goldberg, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson who practices aviation law in Washington, D.C. “As a general matter, passengers have rights, but airlines have rights, too.”

And the article like so many others, mischaracterize the issue as overselling, falsely telling millions of readers that United was on solid ground.

Similarly, Amy Davidson of the New Yorker distorted what happened to justify Dr. Dao’s removal:

The man, at any rate, refused—not on the principle of having bought a ticket and having some right to use it but because, he said, he was a doctor and had patients to see in the morning. That is a good reason, and one that was worth more than eight hundred dollars to the doctor as well as to, presumably, his patients. The airline seems to have disagreed; that’s when it called the cops for a forcible removal. Or, as the airline put it, in a tweeted statement that ignored the ordinary meaning of the words it used, “After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate.”…

In Chicago, the doctor’s emphatic “no” appears to have moved him into a category of non-compliant, troublemaking passengers, whom the airlines have, with what appears to be increasing indifference, treated as they see fit.

No, no, no. The very act of asking Dr. Dao to get off was illegitimate, and calling the cops didn’t make it so. One of the more detailed accounts, at the New York Post, suggests that things got out of hand when a third officer arrived and escalated matters:

Officials said a pair of security guards with the Chicago Department of Aviation had tried talking the man into leaving, to no avail. A third later arrived and threw the passenger against the armrest before the guards dragged him out of the plane.

One skeptical account comes from CBS’s Philly affiliate, Aviation Attorney Believes United Airlines Violated Its Own Contract, and on the Federalist blog.

Understating the extent of Dr. Dao’s injuries. Most of the accounts focus on his bloody lip and bruises. Far more serious was that he was knocked out. That is an almost certain sign of a concussion, which is also suggested by the fact that when he reboarded the plane, passengers depicted him as dazed. Only recently has the medical community started studying the danger of concussions particularly multiple concussions. However, an expert I know who is working with sports teams to try to reduce the risk of injury says there is increasing concern that as few as three concussions can produce cognitive impairment 10 to 20 years later. Those findings are based on trauma to young athletes like football players and boxers. The damage might show up sooner in an older victim. Admittedly, we have no idea if Dr. Dao has ever suffered a previous head injury, but the point is a concussion is far more serious than most people probably realize.

Troubling inconsistencies across stories. Dr. Dao was removed from the plane, yet some stories depict him as reboarding, as one put it, in “about ten minutes”. Yet Dr. Dao’s attorney has issued a statement saying in part:

“The family of Dr. Dao wants the world to know that they are very appreciative of the outpouring of prayers, concern and support they have received. Currently, they are focused only on Dr. Dao’s medical care and treatment,” said [Stephen L.] Golan [of Golan Christie Taglia].

“Until Dr. Dao is released from the hospital, the family is asking for privacy and will not be making any statements to the media”

Similarly, some accounts say the plane was emptied to clean up the blood from the removal and then reboarded. How does that square with Dr. Dao supposedly getting back on the plane shortly after being dragged off?

Lack of discussion of the status of the airport security personnel. The Financial Times was one of the few publications to be early to describe the airport security staff correctly, as security officers of the Chicago Department of Aviation. The Department of Aviation is a self-funded governmental unit (virtually no municipal airports in the US have been privatized). Its security personnel are airport police. They are not part of the Chicago Police department but appear to have their own special purpose authority within the airport.

First, we have the wee question of why the police didn’t operate more independently of United. Their job is to enforce airport rules, not act as agents of airline overreach. Second, a red flag is that Richard Zuley, an interegator at Guantanamo Bay as well as a 30 year member of the Chicago Police Department, had been homicide officer involved with a series of wrongful convictions. A 2015 Guardian story not discussed at length his aggressive techniques, which included allegations of torture. He had then left the CPD and was working as a security officer at the Chicago Department of Aviation. Is this just an isolated example or have other Chicago cops with dodgy records find a second career at the Chicago airport?

Underplaying Magnitude of United’s Management Fail

The press hasn’t bothered to go beyond cheap outrage. Too much of what passes for reporting comes straight from Twitter: first the video clip from passengers, then the appalling half-hearted statement of CEO Oscar Munoz contradicted by his internal e-mail that depicted Dr. Dao as “disruptive and belligerent” and defended staff for complying with “established procedures for dealing with situations like this.” It’s an open question as to whether he would have switched gears to a way-too-late attempt at a faux sincere apology had the story not gone even more viral in China than in the US, which is a top priority market for United, and the stock losing over $1.6 billion the next day.

The missed significance of the four crew members showing up after the plane has boarded seeking seats. This is no way to run an airline. The FAA tracks flight status of planes by their tail numbers in real time. If the four crew members were in a fix due to a flight delay, United should have known well before they landed and alerted the gate personnel of whatever flight it wanted to put them on as soon as the gate opened. Even though it was illegal to dump confirmed passengers, United could have come up with a cock-and-bull story, like the had been forced to use a smaller plane and some passengers would have to travel late. They could have called out the names of the four unfortunates. In that scenario. Dr. Dao’s only recourse would have been to make a stink in the gate area, which would have gone nowhere. And if the crew had been in Chicago and got to their original flight to Louisville late and therefore had to be moved over to this flight, that is inexcusable.

This in turn reveals the lack of any slack whatsoever in United’s system. Clearly the urgency was due to the four crew members somehow being late; Plan A had failed and the last minute boarding effort was Plan B or maybe even Plan C. As one experienced passenger said, “They can’t come up with four crew members in one of their biggest hubs?”

It also is a symptom of a badly fragmented business system heavily dependent on contractors. As reader Jerry Denim said:

United’s real problem isn’t PR though, it’s outsourcing. An astonishing amount of United Airlines flying is conducted by outsourced employees who work for contractor shell companies. The whole idea is cost savings/profits through labor arbitrage and the typical race to the bottom dynamic. Regional airline employees have coined their own term for it- “The Whipsaw”.

Even worse than the shell-company Regional airlines whose employees are second class citizens are the shape-shifting contractor companies that provide gate agents, bag handlers and other random airport services for United. These people are really paid peanuts and mistreated, they are something akin to third or fourth class employees and usually not what I would call the cream of the labor pool. The United flight with the passenger that was brutally manhandled was UA 3411, it was technically operated by Republic Airlines, one of United’s many “regional partners”. As this event took place in Chicago O’Hare the person who made the decision to cap the offer for volunteers willing to give up their seats at $800, then call in a goon squad to get rough was likely a full-fledge United employee, but then maybe not.

When I was a outsourced regional jet captain operating United Express flights between 2010 and 2014 the gate agents in charge of the regional (out-sourced) flights at United hub, Washington-Dulles, were third-party contractors. They were horribly trained and frequently surly. The gates were always crowded, everyone there was angry, nothing worked, it was utter chaos and misery. I absolutely dreaded flying there and did my best to avoid it, Chicago was only a little better.

Sadly the horrible, unnecessary violence that played out on United Express flight 3411 doesn’t surprise me a bit and is par for the course with a company as disgruntled, disorganized and dysfunctional as United. I really don’t think the upper management at United has any clue about the nuts and bolts, day to day, inner workings of the company. Post-merger United is too big to fail, too big to manage and far too Balkanized to govern. I fully expect the ugliness to continue at United.

It’s bad enough when travelers suffer the indignity of disrupted plans, crowded planes, security theater and too often cranky airport staff. Now we’ve seen United execute a private sector extraordinary rendition. Perhaps this fiasco will lead to some improvements, but the lousy economics of airlines combined with their oligopoly status in the US says they will be extremely reluctant to make anything beyond bare minimum changes.

Update 4/13/17: Confirming our section Understating the extent of Dr. Dao’s injuries, and in particular our observation that Dr. Dao has almost certainly suffered a concussion, this morning the Wall Street Journal reported Doctor Dragged From United Flight Suffered Multiple Injuries, Will ‘Probably’ Sue. From the story:

An attorney for David Dao, the passenger dragged off a United Airlines flight after refusing to be bumped, said at a news conference that Dr. Dao suffered a concussion, a broken nose and two lost teeth.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. oho

    >>Reporting Failures
    >>Lack of discussion of the status of the airport security personnel.
    >>Understating the extent of Dr. Dao’s injuries.

    Please people make Yves’ points go viral—-don’t let this issue get buried by the news cycle.

    100% smells like United’s PR firm and employees have been phoning their contacts trying to talk up pro-United talking points. …and presumably dropping hints about next year’s UAL advert budget to their contacts at Gannett or Time or DIsViaCast.

    Even Chicago-based media *and cough NPR affiliate* largely are giving a pass on United/Rahm Emanuel. Their TL;DR—shrug, stuff happens. Again smells like the fourth estate is giving a pass on Rahm cuz of some cozy relationship.

    1. Uahsenaa

      For as much as people were up in arms about the CEO’s callous response, United seems to have been successful in at least one regard: controlling the narrative. They still don’t look good, but they look better than if the MSM had been blasting a clear violation of FAA regulations as well as United’s own contract of carriage. And I imagine any case will likely be settled out of court, so the press surrounding that will be minimal. Journalists love a big showy trial, a settlement not so much.

      1. reslez

        They also seem to be fully on board with smearing the victim. Lots of stupid news stories with irrelevant personal history. Besides United’s disgusting behavior, the other thing I find sordid about this business is how many Americans have lined up to berate a man who was physically assaulted in service of the corporate bottom line. All those frightened little dogs lost their bladder control after 9/11. Today they spend their time howling at people who expect to be treated like peaceful citizens instead of beaten slaves.

        1. Owlet

          This might be an unpopular and incorrect view, but the passenger’s personal history was relevant to the INCIDENT (though not the broader issues). The passenger ran back onto the plane (probably causing the already thuggish police behavior to be jacked up even more) and was yelling, struggling, etc. Any reasonable person would wonder why his behavior was so much more different than that of the other three people who (rightly or wrongly) got off the plane as (rightly or wrongly) asked. The fact that he had past. publicly attested (and reported upon!) mental issues is in fact relevant to the “so why did this unfold this way?” aspect of reporting. That is not to say that he wasn’t unfairly targeted, that United’s “policies” aren’t crap, or that his past legal issues are very relevant. The mental issues ARE relevant to the incident. Also relative to the issue, if you ask me, since airlines going full hog on “security” means they’re going to run roughshod over passengers with all sorts of mental and health issues, which ordinary people have. That too is concerning. But the outcry over ANY investigation into who the passenger is, is also obfuscating the purpose of reporting on INCIDENTS (as opposed to broader issues). First report on the incident. Then, when the incident has been thoroughly reported on, write about the broader issues. That’s how journalism used to work, but people now expect all incidents to be reported via Twitter and that the job of print journalists is to merely interpret Twitter outrage. Get all the facts, report on the incident, the whos and wheres and how, then tackle the why. If the guy actually has mental issues or is in a fragile state because of past problems, make that part of the broader inquiry into United’s policies and behavior — don’t paper it over because it doesn’t fit your early narrative. Like it or not, this passenger’s anomalous (screaming, panicky) behavior is part of the broader story.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            You are making stuff up. Please tell me what evidence there is that Dao had “mental issues”. There are now videos that show Dao talking on a phone while the first two police officers were trying to get him off the plane. He said no to them clearly, did not raise his voice, and was telling someone on the phone he was being threatened.

            Please read the other reader comments.

            First, it appears only the NY Times made the bizarre claim that a 69 year old guy who had been knocked out and was bleeding “jogged” back onto the plane. Other stories say he had trouble navigating. So we have inconsistencies even in reporting based on watching videos!

            Second, it appears Dr. Dao was smeared. Lambert has this in Links today:

            Is the United Airlines man being smeared in the media even the right David Dao? It shouldn’t matter Independent (FluffytheObeseCat). “There is presently confusion about whether the man on the United flight was actually David Thanh Duc Dao, quite possibly another person entirely to David Anh Duy Dao, the man with the criminal records.”

            Oh. “Confusion.” What the heck’s happened — I’m speculating freely that a United PR effort planted the stories — to corporate PR these days? You’d think if they’re going to smear a guy, they’d at least make sure to smear the right guy. And you’d think they’d have staffers who don’t get confused by those tricky Asian names. And then there’s the press, who eagerly lapped up the scandal that — still speculating — they were spoon-fed, “confusion” or not. And if the brainiacs at Google had their groupthink-optimized algo flag this story as legit, will they now unflag it as fake?

            We did not include any of the speculation about Dr. Dao’s history, as in criminal convictions of providing drugs for sex in our post because it was not well sourced. When we have a better idea then we will include it in Links or any future posts.

            1. Watcher

              In fact, the David Dao being widely reported as having a sordid past is not the David Dao who was the victim in this story. Many in the media have it wrong and are adding insult to injury regarding this poor man. Perhaps the media needs to look at their sources before printing their ‘fake news.’ Thank you for not reporting it as truth.

              1. Watcher Watcher

                No, many reports have confirmed it’s the correct David Dao. There’s an LA Times article specifically addressing this.

          2. Nick Sheridan

            But in this case why until this article was there no reporting on the seamy background of the security officials? Look where the power is.

          3. Sophie

            We don’t know how he got back onto the plane, and having such heavy security present suggests that he was permitted to, because he certainly didn’t fight his way past them all. Either way, he’d just been brutally assaulted and had a concussion. He was confused and pouring with blood. His lawyer has now confirmed that amongst other injuries, his nose was broken and he will need reconstructive surgery. It sounds like his wife and belongings were still on the plane. Maybe he was trying to get back to make sure he had his wallet, passport etc., and not thinking straight because of the medical condition he was in. Why on earth blame him for this?

            1. Noni Mausa

              My guess for his return is that they dragged him as far as the boarding chute, noticed he was bleeding and unconscious, realized they couldn’t drag a bleeding, unconscious guy out the boarding gate and into a crowded terminal, and just left him on the boarding chute floor while conferring about what to do and, maybe, sending someone for a stretcher or for backup. While doing this, they paid so little attention to their target that he was able to recover consciousness, get up, and reboard the plane.

              Ten minutes, far from being a short time, is a nightmarish long time for them to ignore the man, and it’s disturbing that they had thought him so injured that they didn’t expect him to wake up while they figured out what to do.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                That makes sense, although I’m not sure they thought he’d be passed out for anything other than a short bit. Prizefighters who are knocked out often stagger up quickly. The panic must have increased when he stayed dazed or passed out on his back.

                I remember when I had a concussion (and it was bad enough I have some memory loss) waking up and insisting I was OK when I couldn’t even stand up. So Dr. Dao too may have thought he was in better condition than he was when he came to.

          4. Jaimes Beam

            You did hear about him having a concussion, right? It may have left him confused!

      2. Badtux

        It doesn’t matter how much United spins it, it’s impossible for any thinking human being to state that it’s reasonable to assault a 69 year old man to the point of breaking his nose, knocking out two of his teeth, and give him a concussion and possible traumatic brain injury for any reason short of that 69 year old man being armed with a gun and being in the midst of committing an armed robbery. I realize that there are those who believe it is permissible to brutalize anybody for any reason. We call those people “criminals” when we see them in a court of law, typically being brought up on charges of assault and battery or spousal abuse because “the whiny b**** wouldn’t keep her mouth shut” or “homey disrespected me while I was walking down the street” or whatevs.

    2. Thor's Hammer

      What a surprise. The Pressitudes fail to explore the basic facts and immediately fabricate a corporate/authoritarian story. Years of training in reporting the “news” and the MSM selection process where non-conforming journalists are never hired or eased out once they start to deviate from the party line pays dividends. Dividends like the immediate headlines trumpeting “Putin’s Missile” when our hand picked Ukrainians shoot down a Dutch airliner or when our client Al-Qaeda terrorists stage a false flag poison gas attack and our MSM universally blames the one individual, Assad, who has absolutely no motive for such an attack.

        1. animalogic

          What missile ? The Ukraine ? Who says ? Certainly not the evidence, unless you mean, IF there WAS a missile it was manufactured in Russia years ago.

    3. different clue

      The way to do that is to keep linking to this blogpost and keep sending it to people. I am not “computerate” so I don’t know all the ways to really viralize something.

      People who have Facebook and Twitter would know how to keep creating and launching ever newer pages and hashtags till they find one that resonates and “self-viralizes” across the Face Bookosphere and the Twitterverse. Perhaps people on this thread can suggest possible Facebook pages and/or possible hashtags.

      Perhaps the biggest possible close-up shot of the Bloody Face of Doctor Chao to illustrate the hashtag: #TheFaceOfUnited . Things like that.

      Perhaps people in competing airlines might have a stealth-interest in helping to viralize these things in order to degrade and attrit their United Airlines competition.

      All is fair in love and war. And this should be viewed as a War of Extermination against United Airlines.

      People here have talked about “empowering” this and “empowering” that. Well . . . millions of ordinary mere-citizens would find it very empowering to discover that they, in their massed millions, actually COULD reach out and exTERMinate a criminal perpetrator corporation and wipe all trace of its existence from off the face of the earth. Such thereby-empowered millions might feel they could move on to the next Black Hat Corporation, and the Next Black Hat Corporation, and the NEXT Black Hat Corporation after that . . . exterminating them from existence one by one by one.

      Eventually, such a mass of serially-victorious people might come to believe they could extend their sense of empowerment to the assault against entire Black Hat Perpetrator SYStems.

    4. Social Steward

      It’s the Fifth Estate I am really concerned about to be honest. Not to detract from the truth in your assertive conclusion, mind you.

  2. oho

    an unnamed Chicago Police official, even though their department was not involved, gave this initial press release through media contacts.

    “At approximately 6:00 p.m., A 69-year-old male Asian airline passenger became irate after he was asked to disembark from a flight that was oversold. The passenger in question began yelling to voice his displeasure at which point Aviation Police were summoned. Aviation Officers arrived on scene attempted to carry the individual off of the flight when he fell. His head subsequently struck an armrest causing injuries to his face. The man was taken to Lutheran General Hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Ongoing investigation.”

    Hmm….replace airport w/a local street. Replace 69 y.o. man w/18 y,o. man. Sounds like a boilerplate press release covering up police brutality.

    Keep that cell phone camera handy when you interact w/police in Chicago, folks!


    1. oho

      The only thing Chicago and United will understand is people voting w/their wallets.

      This could’ve been anyone!

      1. jfleni

        United will understand IMMEDIATELY when Mr Dao’s counsel sues and gets well-deserved millions for this horrible mistreatment; the MSM press will also become aware that all the lies and buttkissing in in the world will not protect them from the outrage of the people.

        1. Vatch

          Yup, United is in big trouble. Probably the Chicago Police Department, too:


          The Louisville doctor dragged off a booked United Airlines flight to make room for airline workers who wanted onto the plane has hired a high-profile Chicago attorney.

          Tom Demetrio, of the prominent Corboy & Demetrio law firm that is routinely in the mix on high-profile personal injury and aviation cases, is part of Dr. David Dao’s new legal team.

          Dao is also represented by Stephen L. Golan of Golan Christie Taglia, who issued a brief statement on Dao’s behalf Tuesday — not long after United’s CEO issued an apology for the infamous incident, which has been seen around the world.

          According to the statement, Dao is undergoing treatment in a Chicago hospital for his injuries.

      2. Altandmain

        The only thing Chicago and United will understand is people voting w/their wallets.

        The problem is that United is a monopoly in many areas.

        There are no other airlines and in much of the US, there are few alternative modes of transportation for long distances.

    2. different clue

      Police Brutality.

      Its not just for Black People anymore.

      Maybe enough such instances of Police Aggression against NON-black citizens can be so effectively highlighted so often that a Citizen Lives Matter movement might arise.

    3. Cr McDonough

      Except that key point of the CPD “narrative” are faulty.

      He was not yelling (none of the fellow passengers reported any such thing).

      He did not sustain his injury as the airline police were “trying to carry him off the plane”. He was injured when one of airport police decided to yank him out of his seat and instead slammed his head into an armrest.

      The flight was fully-booked, but not over-booked

      Also note that they decided that the best way to deal with a 69 year-old man who had just sustained a head injury that rendered him dazed, bleeding and apparently unable to stand was to drag him off with his body being dragged along the ground.

      Instead of, you know, laying him down and having medical evaluate.

  3. Kukulkan

    There’s a few other factors that seem to get left out of most accounts. From the New York Times the sequence of events seems to have been:

    * Twenty minutes before boarding, United announced the flight was overbooked and offered $400 voucher to anyone who would give up their seats. No indication of how many passengers may have taken up this offer.

    * Passengers board the plane.

    * An airline employee comes on board and announces that four people need to get off to makes space for United employees who have to get to Louisville; the offer to any passengers who give up their seats is raised to $800.

    * Apparently no-one takes up the offer.

    * The airline employee announces that the plane will not be leaving until four passengers get off; since there were no volunteers, four passengers will be selected at random. Exactly how they were selected is not revealed, but apparently criteria included not leaving any unattended minors or breaking up family groups.

    * The airline employee approaches a couple and tells them they have been selected. The couple get up and disembark.

    * The employee then goes to the elderly doctor and tells him he’s been selected. The man refuses to get up, saying he’s a doctor and needs to see patients in the morning.

    * Security officers then grabbed the man and dragged him off the plane — this is the part caught on the videos.

    What occurs to me is:

    * The ultimatum — this plane isn’t going anywhere until four people get off — creates a situation which breaks group solidarity of the passengers, since anyone who refuses to co-operate is seen as inconveniencing everyone else.

    * The couple who were selected first and accepted the situation by getting up and leaving created a precedent, so when the elderly doctor refused to co-operate he was not only inconveniencing the other passengers, but also violating the freshly established group norm.

    The whole thing smacks of a much more insidious authoritarianism than the simple brutality caught on the video. Any solidarity among the passengers is disrupted by effectively turning them against one another — the people refusing to get off are holding everyone else hostage through their unco-operative behaviour — and by making the selection “random” the elderly doctor was “cheating” by refusing to accept the result.

    The whole thing establishes and reinforces a notion that those in charge can change the rules whenever and however they choose and everyone is expected to just go along with it.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      As we state in the post, the flight was not oversold, and United’s own CEO has finally said the same thing.

      The fact that United needed to get four passengers off after offering $800 means no one took up the $400 offer. And I’ve seen that reported elsewhere. But by implication, the Times didn’t make that clear.

      1. Kukulkan

        Fair enough. I didn’t know that the CEO had confirmed that there was no over-booking. Thank you for adding that titbit.

        I’d be interested in what the first couple evicted from the plane think of the whole matter.

        1. Moneta

          Who cares what they think?

          Most people comply and some fight back.

          Those who comply usually look down on the contesters but they are really happy when these contesters’ battles end up improving their lives.

          1. Kukulkan

            Who cares what they think?

            I do. I would have thought that was obvious from the fact that I asked the question.

              1. Katharine

                Possibly to get a perspective from people very close to the situation and linked to it in a unique way. It might or might be interesting once obtained, but we can’t know without obtaining it. Anyway, why shouldn’t Kukulkan be free to wonder?

                1. Moneta

                  He’s absolutely free to wonder. I just don’t see how their thoughts would count more than those of the others who were present.

                  1. Kukulkan

                    I’m interested in why people choose to oppose or co-operate. I’ve always been labelled something of a troublemaker, so why other people choose to just go along with things is something that’s always interested me.

                    Was it just conditioning to obey those in authority?
                    Did they think kicking people off the flight was valid and, since they had been selected randomly, it was only fair that they go?
                    Were they afraid of the possible consequences if they didn’t just get up and disembark?
                    Do they think Dr David Dao’s treatment justifies their decision to go along quietly — a ‘That could have been us’ sentiment?

                    If you want to oppose this sort of authoritarian brutality you need to understand how and why it works.

                    1. Norb

                      Are these passengers who were randomly chosen entitled to the $800 that was offered? I would think they should be, regardless that they freely didn’t choose the offer. This is mobster mentality. I’ll give you an offer you can’t refuse? Under these conditions, why should anyone comply with the norms of social conduct? This all smacks of extortion, and I am getting tired of all the one way hypocrisy from the elites. They demand compliance to their “rules”, but have no problem changing the rules whenever it is necessary. Burning the entire system to the ground is on the horizon, and the tone deaf response of corporate America is making this outcome more probable.

                      I see what you are looking for in background and how people think. Its time for a massive re-education plan. In America we are slowly becoming a nation of slaves. Slaves to our corporate masters.

                      It’s time for some solidarity. It time for some social justice. Economic exploitation has always been color blind.

          2. stillthinking

            Questions I’d ask the couple if I could:
            1) When you agreed to get off the plane, were you treated with gratitude?
            2) Were you given the $800 each without having to ask? (it hadn’t occurred to me that they might not have been given that at all!)
            3) Were you given courteous, effective, and appreciative help in getting the best possible alternate means for your trip?
            4) Do you see any reason to think the selection for involuntary removal was not random, and if so are you willing to share that?

        2. FluffytheObeseCat

          An early report described the couple as getting off “grudgingly”. Suggesting that Dr. Dao may not have been the first passenger to voice opposition to this treatment. I’m sorry I don’t have the link to that article, but I’m fairly sure I’d accessed it via an article I first saw linked to at NC. however, it may have been a 2nd or third click away from here.


          1. dcsos

            Dr. Dao’s wife was there too, just not seated next to him…why if the ‘algorithm’ for selecting wouldn’t break up family groups, did it select Dao?

      2. cyclist

        It would also be interesting to know if there were any strings attached to the $800. If the deal was $800 cash plus hotel for the night they might get someone. Not very tempting would be $800 in coupons to be used on United, with all sorts of fine print attached. I’ve heard horror stories about offers that turn out to be the latter (not just United, but also on AA, Delta, etc.).

        1. jrs

          Maybe a symptom of trust levels having sunk so low in this society at this point, that nobody trusts that $800 is just $800. Everything is “there must be a catch” in any commercial transaction at this point, with good reason.

          1. Fred

            You should generally select cash instead of the equivalent in coupons, which typically expire after a year and often have block out restrictions. I believe they are required to offer cash as an option.

          2. Cujo359

            All of which is a reason the opinions of that couple might be interesting, per Kukulkan’s comments above. A decade or so ago, when I was traveling a lot by air, such offers typically involved vouchers or credit for future flights on that airline.

          1. cyclist

            From what I understand, for flights in Europe, EU regulations require that bumping compensation is in cash, not credits for the airline. They must also offer to refund your ticket or put you on a new flight, with food and hotel provided while you are delayed. I came across someone who was skeptical when they were given an ATM card said to be worth a few hundred euros as their compensation, but were pleased when it did indeed deliver the cash. But we don’t need no stinkin’ regulations here in the land of the free.

            1. Matt

              When they’re looking for volunteers, they can offer pretty much whatever they want. When they involuntarily deny boarding they are required by law to give you cash.

            2. Propertius

              There actually are IDB regulations in the US (as the Reddit Yves quotes points out). The regulation is here: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/250.5

              As the Reddit post points out, this regulation only covers overbooking, not the sort of fiasco that led to this incident. As you can see, the amount of compensation they’re required to provide depends on how quickly they can get you to your next stop.

        2. Propertius

          United typically offers air travel vouchers which expire in one year, IIRC. At least that’s my experience as a long-time United frequent flier. Such vouchers are of limited or no value to someone who doesn’t fly often or typically flies on another airline (although the certificates are usually transferable). They will sometimes offer cash if there are no takers on the certificates.

          The really astounding thing is that as tone-deaf as Munoz’s response to this incident was, his predecessor (the execrable Jeff Smisek) would have been worse.

      3. different clue

        I wonder if Kukulkan isn’t raising a very interesting point, though. He is describing the careful breaking of situational solidarity and the creation of an each-against-all ethic in a group of people under Authority’s control. This may have been a behavioral-manipulation science experiment among other things. It gets to Kukulkan’s point about the refinement of applied repressionology

      4. Kukulkan

        Apparently there was one volunteer. I say “apparently” because I ran across this on a Jimmy Dore video on YouTube, but haven’t been able to find any confirmation elsewhere and Dore doesn’t offer any sources in the video notes.

        Dore says (my transcript; any errors are obviously my fault):

        Here’s some new information. The guy they kicked off, he was a doctor, an Asian doctor, who originally volunteered to get off the flight. Like, ‘I’ll be the person, I’ll leave, I’ll get off, you need someone to volunteer.’ He literally did that. Then he finds out he wouldn’t be able to take his flight until the next day at two in the afternoon. And he was like ‘Oh no, I have to be at a hospital. I have to do work at a hospital, so I’m going somewhere to go do work at a hospital. So he said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t leave. I would have volunteered’ — he did. So then, no-one else volunteers, they computer generate his name and then they kick him off the plane.

        Of course, Dore is also repeating the “overbooked” claim, but then so is everyone else.

        If this is correct, it puts United in an even worse flight, because their random method picked the one passenger who had already established why he couldn’t wait for the next flight, even though he had already indicated a willingness to co-operate.

        The more information that comes out, the worse this gets.

    2. Jim A.

      While the method of choosing those forced to deplane might not be important to the legal aspects, it is important in the “court of public opinion.” And the system appears to choose those “least valuable” to the airline. Where part of “least valuable” has to do with their propensity to fly on United. Which makes sense from a business sense, but very unfair to people who have paid more money for ticket than the frequent flyers that they airlines wish to not bother.

    3. Kevin Godin

      I think it’s very important to remember that while this article reports accurately that it was not technically an overboarding issue, it was advertised this way by United, and it was under this authority that United acted in the first place. There was no overselling issue here, it’s just what United found convenient to use as an excuse, at the time.

    4. animalogic

      “The whole thing establishes and reinforces a notion that those in charge can change the rules whenever and however they choose and everyone is expected to just go along with it.”
      Good points: especially re “group psychology”. Hard to tell from recording of incident, but seems there were both comments supportive of the Dr & those against his stand.

    5. Richard

      What did the passengers hope to gain by banding together? They were still at the mercy of the airline. Every day, as adults, we do things we don’t want to do. That man, a mature professional, should have walked off the plane with his dignity intact, instead of pulling a stunt and going limp. That is what children do.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        You are the sort who would likely defer to authority in the Milgram experiment too.

        Did you miss that Dr. Dao was not offered a flight before mid-afternoon the next day? And as we explained at length in the post, the airline has no right to remove him once seated?

        My bet is he will get a $20 million settlement, but United is sure to settle privately and require that the deal be kept confidential. His lawyer has a very strong track record and has done football concussion cases, meaning he already has relations with top experts on the sort of damage they do and knows which ones are both authorities and present well to juries. All he has to do is keep fanning the media fires until United says “uncle”.

        1. Richard

          You don’t know me but I would not shock anyone, not even once. I respect authority, but do not blindly follow instructions if they go against my moral code. I am always responsible for my own actions, whether I am following instructions or not. If you were attempting to insult or denigrate me it didn’t work.

      2. Marina Bart


        I hope to god you are nowhere near me. Like, ever.

        So your position is that when armed thugs acting under color of authority do a corporation’s bidding to steal back something it sold you, which would put you in a ethical predicament (as a doctor, he was ethically required to get to his patients), the “mature” response is comply with the theft? Why exactly is that?

        An airline is not an entity anyone should be at the “mercy” of. It’s a commercial enterprise. If we lived in a democracy, it would function only at the “mercy” of what citizens need and want.

        This country was founded explicitly on the rallying cry that if we want change, if we want justice, we must all hang together, or we will hang separately. Perhaps you are an upper middle class professional in a industry feasting on fiat. Enjoy it while it lasts, Bub. Because that ever-tightening noose of plutocratic corporate control is coming for you, too. Sooner than you might think. A doctor lost two teeth and may have incurred permanent brain damage because he was standing up for his contractual rights, his citizen rights, and his moral and ethical obligations as a medical professional.

        What you are suggesting is what cowards do. I’d rather be a child.

        1. Richard

          I know that this incident incited a lot of outrage in people but this railing against “the man” is childish and unproductive. Was it wrong and perhaps illegal for the airline to forcibly remove the dr.? Maybe, but that would be for a court to decide. I am not a “upper middle class professional in an industry feasting on fiat”, I don’t even know what that last part means. I am a taxi driver who knows that anarchy is not the answer. The dr. did not stand up for his rights, he went limp for them, and got injured as a result of that decision. If I decide to step in front of a car because I don’t agree with the sign that says stop, should I be able to sue?You don’t seem to understand that democracy is not the same as capitalism and what you are advocating for is anarchy. How do you see this ending if the Dr. got away with his protest?

          1. Marina Bart

            You don’t understand what civil disobedience is, or how it has been a necessary element of all democratic change ever.

            You do realize this country was founded by guys who wrote anonymous pamphlets against the government, threw tea that did not belong to them into the ocean, and committed treasonable offenses, right?

            Every black, female or non-land owning person in this country owes their right to vote to others committing acts of civil disobedience. Every. Single. One.

            So unless you’re a Rockefeller slumming as a cab driver for fun, you have the right to vote because someone stood up to “the Man,” as you so childishly want to refer to the fascist forces destroying this country.

            Dr. Dao had an ethical obligation as a doctor to get to his patients. This wasn’t mere personal pleasure.

            I’m very sorry that you have no understanding of law, citizenship rights, how corporate power works, and the importance of civil disobedience. But you are just wrong in every single thing you’re asserting. A corporation used illegal means, including calling in security officers to falsely claim color of authority, to steal something from Dr. Dao. Because it was a service, not a physical good, and the service was time-sensitive — he needed to reach his patients — there was no way for Dr. Dao to prevent them from stealing from him. He can’t sue in court to get back that flight on that day at that time to reach the patients who were depending on him. So he did the only thing he could do: he refused to consent to the theft and the betrayal of his patients. That they then physically assaulted him is an additional, separate crime.

            It is in no way akin to deciding that you don’t have to obey a “stop” sign. Stop signs are settled law. If you ignore a stop sign, you are breaking a law. The law breakers in the United incident were the airline employees and the security officers. Dr. Dao did not at any time break any law. You do understand that, right?

      3. flora

        “instead of pulling a stunt and going limp”

        Uh, you mean like getting knocked unconscious?

        1. Richard

          The Dr. went limp on purpose. If United did something illegal, get off the plane like a man and sue their a$$es. I didn’t see anyone try to “help” him. How do you see it ending if he prevailed in his refusal?

          1. Tim

            “The Dr. went limp on purpose”

            Oh, we have a mind reader now. Would you like to provide some evidence for your claim, or are you convinced that “be a man” is a compelling enough argument?

            For the record, “going limp” after having your head slammed against an armrest in a forceful enough manner that you get a broken nose, lose two teeth, and have a concussion isn’t all too improbable of a physiological response. Especially if you’re nearly seventy years old.

            All this “be a man” stuff is a nonsensical distraction.

            1. Richard

              I don’t understand why you feel the need to insult me. The dr. said they would have to drag him off, and they did. Stand up, walk off the plane, and if you think that what the airline did was wrong, sue them. All this outrage is amusing, but not productive.

              1. Marina Bart

                Please read my long reply. You are completely wrong in every way. Dao made the courageous choice, the moral choice, the only ethical choice available to him.

                If he had walked off the plane, they would have successfully stolen from him and harmed his patients. There would be no way to redress this harm, and it would have continued to be done to other people, on other flights. Small Claims Court would have been his only avenue for redress, and United would probably have sent five lawyers from Harvard and Yale to make sure no precedent was set.

                His going limp should have merely resulted in him being carried off the plane. There was absolutely no need to assault a 69 year old man. Why are you so passionately committed to defending police violence?

                1. Richard

                  Mistakes were made by everyone, including the doctor. Two wrongs do not make a right. I will ask again – how do you see the incident playing out? No one offered to take his place and he said that he would sue and they could drag him off. I don’t believe he was assaulted. Doctors reschedule patients all the time so that argument doesn’t hold sway with me. I’m not a Rockefeller, just an average person who thinks that there was a better way for everyone to deal with this situation.

                  1. Scott Petrovits

                    “I don’t believe he was assaulted.” That’s nice. I don’t believe you’re correct.

                    1. Richard

                      I believe that he was asked, more than once, by more than one person, to vacate his seat. The last three to ask were the police. In who’s world is disobeying the police a good idea when you don’t if what you’ve been asked to do is legal or not? If he had of complied with the request and walked off the plane there would have been no physical injury to him. All I’m saying is that mistakes were made by everyone, the doctor included.

                    2. Yves Smith Post author


                      You must have been sent to make up this blather.

                      First, had you bothered to read the post, United has no legal right whatsoever to ask that he vacate that seat. United was completely in the wrong in even asking that he leave.

                      Second, Dr. Dao was assaulted. If United winds up paying less than $20 million to make this go away I will be very much surprised. But we’ll never know for sure since United will settle the case and demand that the settlement terms be kept confidential.

                      Third, United was in the wrong to call in the police and the police were in the wrong to participate. Chicago aldermen are demanding an investigation because the duties of the Department of Aviation security force explicitly exclude customer service issues, which is what this impermissible ejection effort was about.

                  2. Provider_UNE_AndPlayersToBeHatedLater™

                    Richard, so how long have you been working for United airlines outsourced corporate communications division? PR flacking in comment threads about this incident must make for a busy day.

                    And if one had time, one might find a Richard, or a John, or Gerald commenting along the same lines at other blogs running with this story…

                    So Richard, how does this work pay?

    6. Seth

      They did break up a family group: Dr. Dao’s.

      And either their statement about “random selection” was a lie, or they violated their own contract (and the laws that incorporate that contract into federal regulations).

  4. David J.

    The tone of this AP article, which was front page of today’s print edition of my local paper represents a different type of reporting fail, imo. The emphasis on it being a PR disaster sidesteps the more fundamental issue involved. It’s a classic substitution we see all too often anymore. Implicitly characterizing this event as a “consumer” issue changes the tone altogether. It should have been written as a “citizen” abuse article, imo.

  5. Anon

    Hi Yves,.

    I find it interesting that not once did you mention that this was a United Express flight.

    Furthermore no mention of Republic Airways the holding company for Republic Airlines which was the carrier operating United Express flight 3411. Was it Republic Airlines crew who these seats were being made available for?

    Even more interesting is the fact that Republic Airways is in chapter 11 bankruptcy one reason being lack of pilots to fly their planes.

    Just thought you might like to know.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The fact that it was a regional jet was discussed by Jerry Denim and he very clearly stated it was a United Express flight. It is in the post.

      And the purpose of this post was not to give an exhaustive account but to flag major errors and omissions. The regional jet personnel are subject to United’s rules and it was the United CEO who immediately stepped in to handle the mess. Legal structures regularly have little to do with operating/management arrangements. This is particularly true in banking, BTW.

  6. PQS

    Thanks for this detailed account. As I suspected, everyone involved in this entire incident failed both as employees and as human beings – from the flight crew to the cops to the CEO. Where was the captain in this incident?

    And as Kukulkan notes above, this is typical authoritarian behavior apparently designed to reinforce mute compliance.

    WRT the airport cops, don’t the airlines pay for staffing and maintenance at the airports in large capacity? I thought I read that somewhere, which would explain why they did Uniteds bidding.

  7. Andy

    Another oversight – The airline involved was actually Republic, flying under contract for United.

    1. Sandler

      I don’t think this is relevant. The name on the plane says United. Everything says United. You buy it from United. I as a customer should not need to concern myself with corporate structures, contracts, subsidiaries, etc. When Comcast sends an incompetent technician to my house, it means f*ck all to me whether he’s a contractor or a W-2 employee. That’s Comcast’s concern.

      1. Andy

        Yes and no. One of the major trends in the U.S. based airlines in the last few years has been the continued outsourcing of flying to regional “partners.” This has been done as a way to grind down labor costs (that is, non-labor costs like parts, planes, fuel, etc pretty much cost the same at majors vs regionals). While the managers at the major airline will claim otherwise, the quality of service is vastly inferior because the regionals cannot attract or keep stellar employees. The old saw “you get what you pay for” applies here. There was a cascade of issues that led to this incident, and most of them involved poor decisions made at multiple levels. The people making this decisions are likely not the cream of the crop.

        Let’s face it, most passengers look for the cheapest fare to meet their need. The airlines have responded by cheapening the product. Incidents like this are a predictable outcome of that process.

        1. JohnnyGL


          Most of your comment is good, but this part bothered me:

          “Let’s face it, most passengers look for the cheapest fare to meet their need. The airlines have responded by cheapening the product. Incidents like this are a predictable outcome of that process.”

          The above implies that it’s passengers’ fault for driving fares down too low to be sustainable. That’s emphatically not the case. Airlines have plenty of pricing power, especially after so much consolidation. They’re also plenty profitable, even as they’ve ruined the service they offer.

          Travelers hunt for low fares in virtually every product/service in every industry. It’s no one’s fault other than management that the airlines are so badly organized. Lots of airlines in Europe and Australia offered better service, cheaper fares and fewer delays. They’re plenty profitable, too.

          1. Oregoncharles

            Actually, this is the reason airlines were and should be tightly regulated; they usually have a semi-monopoly position, if only because you (I) buy a ticket based almost entirely on the times and the price. The routes are assigned, and the flight timing is restricted by airport capacity, so there are usually very few choices. More if you’re going to and from a major hub, but Louisville isn’t (I fly into it regularly), and neither is Portland.

            At this point, many people will be actively avoiding United, but that doesn’t help if they’re the only one that will get you where you want to go at the right time.

            1. bob

              “and the flight timing is restricted by airport capacity”

              I used to fly out of logan too much. Flight times are not restricted by airport capacity. The airlines together regularly book more departures per hour than the airport can handle, in a best case scenario.

              It takes a herculean effort in tracking down flight schedules across different airline and finding the airport capacities, but it’s all public info.

              Now, multiply that by hours per day, and airports in the US.

              It’s a HUGE glaring problem. They have more flights taking off in any one hours than they have the capacity for.

              Delays are to be expected at this point, snowballing into the next hour, which will now also be over capacity, and result in more flight delays. Repeat, until traffic slows down.

              It’s not worth the complete indignity, as well as the technical impossibility of the airlines to do what they say, to fly today.

              “it was a weather delay”

              Where? Not here. Perfect weather. The destination airport is fine.

              “The plane didn’t get here on time, because of weather in Timbucto.”

              Oh, I get it. You’re trying to get me to change flights.

              “no, the flight isn’t cancelled, it’s just delayed.”

              But, I bought a ticket on the 8:30 flight. Not the 9:30 flight. If you’d like to offer me something to change my plans, I’d be obliged to listen.

              “no, it’s been delayed. By weather. We don’t have to offer anything”

              But, you said that the weather is here fine. You just don’t have a plane here. That’s your problem. My problem is that I’m being offered an 9:30 flight when I bought and paid for an 8:30 flight. Not sure if it’s beacuse you don’t have enough planes, or sold too many tickets today. I don’t run an airline. You purport to. Now what’s your offer on me taking the 9:30 flight instead of the 8:30 flight.


            2. different clue

              No, but it may mean that those people who DO have “other choices” may well be able to push United over the edge into extinction if they all unanimously choose to refuse United, time after time, every single time, until United goes irreversibly extinct.

          2. lyman alpha blob

            I think the key is that all other things being equal, people will look for the cheapest fare. If you’re going to be crammed in like sardines, pay to check a bag, pay for any sustenance other than pretzels and water regardless of what airline you chose, etc. then it’s only reasonable to try not to pay too much for such lousy service.

            As you said it isn’t passengers’/customers’/ fault that these practices exist, no matter how many times they tell us they’re just providing what their customers demand.

            I don’t remember anyone asking me if I preferred the current airline experience over how it used to be (I don’t) or if I really preferred all the cheap disposable crap on offer at all the megamalls that put everyone else out of business (I don’t).

            What I’d really prefer is for wages to rise so people can continue to afford better quality, longer lasting products and better services. But instead TPTB freeze wages and crapify everything and claim that’s what we really wanted in the first place.

            1. RAL

              I disagree with your comment about “all other things being equal people will look for the cheapest fare”. The higher service airlines became lower service airlines because travelers (vacation and business) flew the lower cost airlines in the hope of reducing their travel costs – heck, all they had to do was put up with poor service for a few hours until they got to their destination. Who cared if the ticket agent was surly or the baggage handler broke someone else’s suitcase. High service airlines became low service airlines because the passengers voted with their wallets.

              The most disingenuous part of your post, though, is the last paragraph that states that if everyone had higher wages they would pay more for service. If customers wanted better service they would have continued flying airlines that provided it rather than vote with their dollars and fly on airlines with lower levels of service. This already disproves your theory.

              As a consumer we look for three things – Price, Service and Quality. You can only ever get two of those three. You pick the two.

              1. different clue

                And the existence of that negative force field putting the airlines onto a race-to-the-quality-bottom is due to President Carter’s deregulation of the airlines to begin with.

                So Jimmy Carter pushed over the first domino which caused this most recent domino to fall upside Dr. Dao’s head. So while we focus on exterminating United from existence and wiping it off the face of the earth, we might spare a thought to The Carter Legacy . . . Our grubby nasty Subways In The Sky.

                After United has been safely exterminated, one wonders if a movement might arise to break up and re-regulate the remaining airlines?

                1. pretzelattack

                  and democrats in congress, including ted kennedy. lots of democrats, deregulating for a long time. carter wasn’t the patient zero of the deregulation disease, any more than he was notable for interfering in the middle east.

              2. Marina Bart

                I completely disagree. I’m not going take apart your assertion that the only or primary reason airlines are terrible is because customers voted with their wallets. That’s wrong, but it’s late at night and I don’t feel like going to the trouble of getting into how we got here.

                But I can give you an example of how your third graf is wrong: Jetblue. Jetblue worked with me to fly me across the country through a blizzard when I had the flu and a <30 minute window to get from my home to inside an airplane about to take off, or I would never see my mother alive again. I literally had to hang up on my father so I could throw stuff in a suitcase while talking to Jetblue because there was no time to get online. My husband drove me to the airport where a Jetblue representative was waiting by the front door to drag me by the arm through an expedited security check and down to my gate, as I coughed and blew my nose. Another Jetblue employee was waiting by the airplane door. They couldn't legally hold the plane for me, but she was pleading with them to wait until the very last second, because once they closed the door, that was it. I made it with under a minute to spare.

                Jetblue once gave us a huge credit for a nasty delay that was due to a blizzard. Legally, they hadn't done anything wrong. It was just good, old fashioned customer service. There was an email waiting for me when I finally landed, notifying me of the credit that had already been applied to my account.

                Jetblue often is the lowest cost choice on its routes, while offering superior service and quality.

                Airlines don't have to be terrible. And it is an absolute myth that you can't get quality, service and a decent price point. We're constantly hearing about the miraculous power of the market. What that should mean, at a bare minimum, is that we customers can get quality and service for a good price. That's what "market competition" is supposed to deliver. Of course all these companies fight like hell to avoid being in anything like a "free" market where they actually have to compete on a level playing field. It is that kind of corrupt dynamic that leads to horrible situations like what happened on United 3411, and the attendant propaganda that facilitates this corruption leads people like you to make pathetic, counterfactual assertions about how its the customers' fault they're stuffed into metal tubes like animals being brought to slaughter, and that customers cannot have decent products and services at a decent price.

                What exactly is the "good" capitalism is supposed to do again?

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          Republic is a subcontractor. A passenger contracts with United. The Contract of Carriage is a United agreement, not a Republic agreement. United is responsible to the customer for performance. Moreover the procedures are specified by United and Republic personnel use United computer systems, not a Republic system that connects to United.

          So legally the way this goes is the customer has recourse against United, and then United can go and beat up on Republic.

          1. Sid

            Exactly. I deal with this as a construction project manager. The main contractor will try to excuse an issue or shift blame/focus to a subcontractor. Dude, I pay you. You are in trouble. You pay them. If the subcontractor is not performing adequately, that is an issue for main contractor to address.

            United owns this debacle. The customer paid money to United. If a subcontractor is also in trouble, that issue is for United.

        1. BayGirl22

          Doesn’t matter. The flight can still be “operated by” a contractor with United branding on the plane. On the west coast/south west United Express flights say “operated by Sky West” when booking but otherwise the customer would never see the difference in branding.

          1. Anon

            Like I said the plane said United Express it did not say United Airlines.

            Would you know what I’m talking about if I said
            ‘oh just Nest Lab it’
            or does it make more sense when I say
            ‘oh just Google it’

            Both company’s are subsidiaries of Alphabet so if you mean Google you should say Google not Nest Labs.
            Just like both United Airlines and United Express are subsidiaries of United Continental holdings.
            So if the doctor was dragged off a United Express flight you are wrong to say it was a United Airlines flight.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              No, it is a United flight for legal purposes. You book the flight on a United site. The flight number is a United flight number. The Contract of Carriage shows the links for the Contracts of Carriage for United’s “partners”. They are all major foreign carriers. There is no separate Contract of Carriage for United Express. The customer’s legal relationship is with United, not United Express.

              1. Anon

                So will the Doctor be sueing
                1)United Continental holding company 2)United Airlines or
                3)United Express

                Or will all three be named in the law suit?

    1. cm

      Yes, and I saw the smearing repeated across multiple sources. At least reader comments were trending to pointing out the passenger’s background was completely irrelevant.

      Also, as I mentioned yesterday, I believe the police were brought in regarding a civil dispute, not criminal…

      1. cm

        New question – were the security people actually granted any sort of law enforcement status? If not, why aren’t they being charged with assault & battery?

        Washington State readers – our useless Senator Cantwell is on the aviation subcommittee!!! Call her office about her letter to United and demand she ask some real questions. Her letter makes no mention of the justification of removing a passenger in the first place.

        1. Lord Koos

          Cantwell is useless. The only reason she is on an aviation committee is to look out for Boeing, one of her corporate sponsors.

        2. oho

          >New question – were the security people actually granted any sort of law enforcement status? If not, why aren’t they being charged with assault & battery?

          Chicago Dept. of Aviation “Police” are not the same as an armed, sworn officer from the Chicago Police Dept. More than a meter maid, but absolutely less than a sworn municipal officer.

          And it varies by jurisdiction—eg NYNJ Port Authority Police are 100% fully sworn, armed police. Just like NYPD. (But I imagine Port Authority also hires unarmed security like Chicago)

          And it’s entirely possible that standard op. procedure for the aviation security officers was that when dealing w/a non-compliant passenger, summon CPD unless there was an immediate threat. (but that’s my conjecture)

        3. Tax Guy

          Under Illinois law they have a full police authority within the airport grounds. Beyond that they have none. They are also forbidden to carry weapons.

        4. LifelongLib

          Hope this isn’t a double post.

          A little OT, but here in Hawaii the Honolulu Airport has armed private security (Securitas) guards. Recently one of them shot somebody’s dog. And allegedly some of them are fired ex-cops who are nevertheless allowed to do security work and carry guns because they weren’t actually convicted of crimes.

        5. Yves Smith Post author

          I wish I had an answer. I actually spent some time trying to get to the bottom of the “airport police” matter generally and in Chicago specifically. To have bona fide law enforcement powers of any sort, even limited ones, they need to be sworn in under the rule of the relevant jurisdiction (and yes, sports fans, O’Hare is indeed part of Chicago). But they are described in some articles as designed to “augment and act in support of” the regular Chicago police.

          1. aNanyMouse

            “LifelongLib’s ” above post about IL law (it’s now disappeared!) is correct, that dept. has full police authority within the airport grounds. They’re actually the first responders, with CPD as their armed backup.

            As O’Hare is a Class B airport, it has a central dispatch office, known there as the Command Center, who would’ve been called by UAL. If this Center called the Aviation Police, without checking with the Feds before sending a local officer onto a plane (it being within Feds’ jurisdiction), the Center folks should fry for this.
            I’ll bet ranch that these Aviation Police got no training in federal regs (such is given to Air Marshals) about persons on aircraft. If, as I read elsewhere, UAL didn’t show a signed Complaint, these cops may be in huge legal do-do. And some Fire Dept. persons should also probably have been sent, e.g. to handle any injuries etc.

    2. Uahsenaa

      As oho points out above, this whole thing reads like the script of a cop shooting a black guy. You have the standard impersonal constructions (“incident occurred”/”head struck the armrest” = “officer involved shooting”), the not so subtle implications that the victim deserved what he got because he was not a 100% perfect individual, the laser focus on tiny and largely irrelevant minutiae at the expense of dealing with the violence that was perpetrated, etc.

      All of this is necessary to obfuscate, because the injustice, as with killing someone in cold blood, is actually quite straightforward: everything that transpired was a clear violation of both FAA regs and United’s carriage contract. Nothing more really needs to be said, and yet so much is.

      1. FluffytheObeseCat

        One thing has stood out to me in the past 48 hours: none of the ‘news’ reports are highlighting the fact that Dr. Dao is a senior citizen. He’s old. And the intransigence and over-focus he apparently exhibited are not uncommon in the elderly, and should be recognized and worked with.

        They didn’t just manhandle a passenger and a doctor, they mistreated an old man.

    3. Dwight

      United and O’Hare are just digging the hole deeper with irrelevant character assassination.

  8. Moneta

    I can’t believe they stopped at 800$. It seems to me they could have avoided the problem with fair compensation.

    1. Moneta

      According to DOT, compensation for getting bumped can go up to 1300$ so IMO, they should have gone to at least this amount before even thinking of doing anything!

        1. Moneta

          It’s 200% of ticket for short delay up to 400% for longer delay. It’s a legal cap in terms of what clients can expect to receive but airlines must surely be allowed to offer more if they need to.

          Can someone confirm this?

          1. Jonathan Mason

            The maximum applies to overbooking situations, not to situations where the airline needs to remove paid passengers to accommodate stranded air crew.

          2. Jim Thomson

            Yep, the only right thing to do, assuming United needed the four seats, is to keep raising the price until four passengers take the offer. At some price four will get off the plane.

        2. Guan Yang

          The cap is on the compensation required in the case of an involuntary denial of boarding. A cap can be useful to prevent costly litigation for each case of denied boarding, and it does not apply to volunteers. I believe, but am not certain, that the airline could still pay higher compensation, even when the denial of boarding is involuntary.

          1. aNanyMouse

            Yeah, the Cornell CFR page talks about requirements when denying boarding, not options when reversing things on people already boarded.

  9. blue streak

    Regarding airline shell companies and employees paid peanuts, I have a casual friend who told me recently that her brother, in his late 50’s, has worked for 30 years at a company that fuels commercial jets at a decent sized airport in the northeast. About a year ago had to move in with her because he no longer makes a living wage. Apparently the company he works for has been sold a number of times and each time it does his wages go down.

    1. JerryDenim

      Yes! Common practice now. United or other legacy airlines put the “contract work” (check-in, bag loading, aircraft handling, you name it) out for bid every year or two now. Surprisingly it seems the incumbent contracting company never seems to win the contract twice in a row. The “new” winning contractor offers the old employees their old jobs back for less and year-one pay scale of course. That’s one of the many ways “the whipsaw” works. Unionized workers higher on the contractor food chain are frequently coerced to give up pay, benefits and work rules under the threat of the above scenario only to lose their jobs anyway. It’s a brutal industry. This is how major airlines are profitable while tickets are radically cheaper than they were 16 years ago.

      1. oho

        >>This is how major airlines are profitable while tickets are radically cheaper than they were 16 years ago.

        I guess that’s why Warren Buffet bought 9% of UAL in Q4, 2016.

  10. Musicismath

    My Dad was a career airline officer for decades in what was then called “crew control” but later relabelled logistics. His whole job consisted of trouble shooting — making sure crew, aircraft, and passengers got where they needed to be when disruptions happened. Anything from fog closing a regional airport to a 737 breaking to crew members calling in sick could lead to a cascading series of delays. But the point was that he and his colleagues were highly experienced, knew how to foresee problems and when to intervene. The point was to phone the right people at the right time to make sure transport was laid on to take crew and passengers between airports by other means when the schedule got disrupted.

    Deadheading crew should fit seamlessly into a day’s operations if logistics are working properly. That the 4 crew arrived at the gate expecting passage after passengers had boarded, and that no one apparently warned gate personnel that they’d be coming, just blows my mind.

  11. Abu Ghraib International Airport

    A decade ago, a nonviolent and far less egregious disgrace of United made me decide, never again. No emergency justifies trusting United. Naturally United scrapes the bottom of the barrel for labor. United’s core competence is CIDT. But sinecures for disgraced torturers is a new and historic low.

    1. tejanojim

      AFAIK, the 4th person was the doctor’s wife. You can see her in the video running after her unconscious husband and his attackers.

  12. vidimi

    i wish you had actually used Oscar’s “re-accomodation” in the title instead of “removal” :D

    1. Angie Neer

      This highlights another of the many misreported and misunderstood aspects of this fiasco. Mr. Award-Winning Communicator’s term “re-accomodation” did not apply to the victim, but to the passengers who had to leave the aircraft and the reboard later while United sanitized the crime scene. His statement was widely criticized as a poor apology to the victim, when in fact it was nothing of the kind. It was an attribution of blame to the victim.

      1. bob

        That’s why he got the award for “communicator of the year”. Pure passive aggressive BS.

        Poor apology? He’s paid millions for this stuff. Certainly not poor for him, or his PR “industry” buddies.

  13. Marco

    Vox-splaining douche Yglesias blames American thirst for cheap tickets and “the market”. Why do I still have him in my RSS feed? Also the fact that this happened in Chicago is telling.

    1. Moneta

      The problem with the airline industry is that it is structured as a pseudo capitalistic market driven sector.

      The reality is that it is a highly parasitic sector with bigger carriers forced to offer money losing routes while smaller carriers can offer services in the money making routes only essentially eating their lunch.

      When this industry got denationalized in the 80s-90s, it got a huge amount of publicly financed assets on the cheap. Falling rates have probably helped.

      With the ageing of assets and rising rates, it will be interesting to see how profitable this sector will be over the next decade or two.

      Something tells me we aren’t paying nearly enough for tickets to make this sector sustainable over the long term and this gets reflected in their cattle herding approach.

      1. RightishLeft

        And yet we’re paying significantly more per mile flown than the Europeans. Go figure. Might it have anything to do with the North American airline market being protected from foreign competitors? You can fly a US airline between two European destinations, but you can only fly a European airline internationally to or from the US.

      2. PhilM

        See any similarities to the way health care, telecom, and other utilities are run? They’re all disgraceful; they give rentiers a bad name.

    2. JerryDenim

      Haven’t read the article, Yglesias not one of my faves, but it sounds like he does have a grasp of the core issues driving airline degradation. The “competitiveness” burden of neoliberal capitalism is all being placed on workers and it is taking a toll on the business. “Race-to-bottom” is generally understood to mean worker pay and benefits, but like the saying, ‘pay peanuts, get monkeys’ implies, you can’t keep expecting more for less forever without negative consequences. Besides the lower caliber employee problem, bad pay and work conditions coupled with a Balkanized, outsourced workforce who has no stake in the success of the parent/client company will make even the best of employees bitter and jaded. Add in bad training, some workplace high stress conditions and you’ve really got a recipe for disaster.

  14. Yan

    I am not an expert but couldn’t they have used one of the same outsourcing companies to find 4 other employees/slaves in louisville for 900 bucks each? That would be what they would be offering. Make it even double! Compared to what they are going to pay just on crisis management fees it’s peanuts.

  15. Kevin Smith

    United [or their contractor] could have and should have chartered a plane [prop or small jet] to get their staff to Louisville. United decided to cheap out, bully a passenger, and now will pay an amount several orders of magnitude greater than the cost of a charter.

    1. Vatch

      Yes, I agree. It would have cost them some money in the short run, but compared to what they will lose over the coming months, it would have been a trivial cost.

    2. RUKidding

      Yesterday in the comments, I think, someone pointed out that it’s not that unusual for airlines to send their crew on another airline to the required destination. Apparently (I don’t know; just paraphrasing what I read), the airlines have some sort of agreement with each other, whereby they only pay a percentage of the going fare rate to send their employees on another airline.

      United could’ve done that for less than the $800 x 4 amount for the four passenger tickets. Apparently there were other flights to the destination city (was it Louisville?) from O’Hare that they could’ve taken.

      My experience with United is that they are incompetent, surly and not at all customer service oriented. Hence, you get a clusterf*ck like this.

      It’s too bad that the M$M is not really doing it’s job – what else is new? – in reporting how poorly United performed and how they need to clean up their act. There’s simply no excuse for this. None.

      1. Lord Koos

        I had a girlfriend who was a flight attendant with United for many years. She had a lot of horror stories about UA management… and this was back in the 90s.

  16. oho

    if you’re a flier, pay attention to that carriage of contract/tos. as I imagine that the boilerplate largely hasn’t changed since the days of Carter—–and no reasonable lawyer would’ve conceived of an insane situation like this—forced removal ^after^ boarding.

    next tos amendment, discreetly rolled out (of course)…we can remove you at any time for any reason, even after boarding, even if you’re minding your business.

      1. MSO

        Is it even legal to publish a 37,000 word contract electronically? Does the justice system require that customers read and agree to contracts that size every time they fly? How would a customer know if the electronic contract he just finished reading is the same as when he started reading it?

        Thanks for the article.

  17. Sandler

    This is a good piece. I’ve followed this story closely as it seems to involve so many broken things about America in one single flashpoint.

    But I want to point something out which I think has gone unnoticed:

    On the same day as the United fiasco, an 8-year-old boy with intellectual disabilities in a special needs class was shot to death in school at San Bernardino.

    An eight year old child killed *at school* as a bystander to a senseless act of domestic violence in California **was not even the biggest story or the biggest source of outrage in America** that day. It was the United story.

    That’s how desensitized this country has become. I’m really disgusted with everything.

    1. SpringTexan

      I don’t think this is either desensitized or unreasonable. You could also say Assad’s crimes have fallen out of the headlines (and to me they are more important to cover than any California homicide).

      A story about a California homicide when domestic violence happens all the time (even not in America) and is not in principle eradicable any more than terrorism, even though absolutely tragic, does not seem to most people like anything they can do anything about or that will change what they do in daily life. (You can of course say we should push gun laws since there’d be less collateral damage (horrible horrible phrase) without easy access to guns and you’d likely be right, but . . ..in a way this is not news beyond its local area, just another tragic crime.)

      Where the United story symbolizes everyone’s rage at how we are treated by companies (all over the country), and at least we can (possibly) punish United, and welcome the opportunity.

      It’s not unimportant just because United didn’t murder anyone.

      1. pretzelattack

        but there isn’t proof assad used chemical weapons. i think the widespread assumption that there is a notable story in its own right.

          1. hunkerdown

            One plausible alternative scenario is that US-backed “moderates” placed the chemicals there and used the nearby population as a human shield and media fodder. That seems rather more likely to me than that Assad would do it. Exposure-wise, Assad has all downside and no upside and the US-Gulfie-Israel axis has all upside and very little downside. I await your rebuttal with great interest.

          2. pretzelattack

            i didn’t say “there isn’t proof a bombing took place”. i said there “isn’t proof assad used chemical weapons”. but if you want to pretend the two assertions are equivalent, to prop up some bullshit propaganda, go right ahead.
            i’d rather get it right, and avoid a war with russia over the equivalent of iraqi wmd’s.

    2. Camp

      Your timeline is wrong. The United incident happened on Sunday evening whereas the school shooting was 10:30 PDT Monday morning (1:30 EDT). That means that the United story was out all morning in the east and central time zones before the school shooting was on the news. Unfortunately, school shootings are not so rare and domestic violence even less so. Murder-suicide gun violence just gets accepted. If the 8 yr old boy hadn’t died, I doubt this would have been anything more than a local story. So far the bloody removal of seated passengers is not common and most people can see this happening to them.

  18. Byzantine Interstices

    A couple of observations:

    1. The traction in Chinese media: The passenger in question is an Asian(-American).
    Great propaganda on how brutal and xenophobic those Occidentals are.

    2. The lack of accuracy and depth in the news coverage works perfectly into the playbook of the part-time occupant of maison Blanche. “The press lies” or at a minimum spews incomplete information as fact. How can we (you) trust them.. .

  19. Hubert Horan

    Hi Yves–
    You are correct about the bad reporting about “overbooking”, but United had an absolute right to bump passengers for operating crew. The legal comments all pertain to regulations governing how airlines should decide to ration seats among paying passengers. It has the right to restrict seats for operational reasons. It could bump passengers on a load limited flight to carry more cargo if it wanted.

    The failure that caused the problem is that the Republic Airlines (the operating company) failed to tell either United (which runs the reservation and load control functions) or its own airport staff that it needed to send the four crew members on this flight until moments before departure. This was a massive fuck-up, that none of the reports have picked up on. Airlines fly on-duty operating crews as passengers on flights all the time, and they all fly on a “must-go” boarding priority. But these requirements should always be known well in advance, so that airport boarding procedures can be adjusted accordingly (e.g. boarding passes would only be issued for the number of people the flight could take, and any denied boarding payments could be made at the gate). The failure to enter the data about the need to transport the four crew into the system is akin to failing to order the fuel needed for the flight.

    The second issue, as you correctly noted is the military response of the Chicago Aviation Department cops. But also remember that responsibility for this rests with the airline and the captain in particular. Law enforcement does not come onto the plane without the request of the captain, who has full responsibility for everything on the aircraft. If the cop starts beating passengers, the captain still had full responsibility. If he did nothing to mitigate the cop’s bad behavior, he should be sued as well. Remember the only reason cops are on the plane is the need to fix the airline’s operational fuck-up.

    The underlying problem here is that airline crews have generally bought into this militarization. Over the 10-15 years when most crews worked at chapter 11 cram-down wages (even though the airlines were earning record profits) there was enormous frusrtration, as the crews were also getting the brunt of passenger dissatisfaction and operational cutbacks. What unfortunately developed was an sense that they had absolute, unconstrained authority over what happened on the aircraft, and could use TSA and local cops to back up whatever they wanted done. Thus if a crew member though a Middle-Eastern looking passenger was a “threat” they could call law enforcement and drag that person off the plane, under the authority of the captain. The airlines would do nothing as it is cheaper to let crews behave this way than to pay them high salaries but demand professional behavior.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks for the confirmation that it is totally outside the pale for an airline to have crew show up as a plane is departing to demand to be dead-headed.

      However, I beg to differ with your claim about United’s rights with respect to making a passenger with a confirmed seat who has been seated give up his seat for crew. A California state prosecutor who has dealt with closely parallel situations weighed in later and said my analysis was correct (search for Sluggeaux).

      You are effectively arguing “Possession is 90% of the law” as in “It’s our plane” when the passenger has a contract with United. Did you look at the current Contract of Carriage? I provided a link. As you probably know, it is astonishingly detailed, down to the issue of whether pool cues can be booked to have a seat.

      Please show me where in the contract or in FAA regulations it says that United can bump a paying passenger with confirmed seat, particularly one who has been seated, for crew. The customer has bought a ticket promising transport from point A to point B on a specified date and time. The Contract of Carriage has all of the exceptions one could possibly imagine that an airline might need in case it has trouble delivering, include force majeure outs.

      Thus unless you can show me a legal basis for your claim (citing an FAA rule or section of the Contract of Carriage) I have to take issue with you regarding “operational reasons” which might may exist in FAA regulations, but again I’d need to see the particular section or sections. Those would presumably apply to the operation of the plane, not the system. Your belief and the airlines’ widespread belief as to what they can do may not be accuurate, particularly given that the passengers had all been seated and United has very clearly specified and extensively envisaged rights with respect to which it can remove seated passengers. Bumping them to move crew is not listed as one of them.

      1. Alicia

        I’ve read elsewhere (probably FlyerTalk) that pilots and FAs have in *their* contract, that when they deadhead, they are guaranteed seats. Not even jumpseats; must be regular seats *and* that their seating takes priority over onboarding passengers. They could agree to sit in a jumpseat if they wanted to be amenible but it’s one of those perks [sic] in their contract which airlines agree to because it costs less than paying them a decent salary.

        So this could be a matter of dueling contracts.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Aha! That is an intriguing tidbit. Thanks!

          But regional jet personnel really are second class citizens relative to the pilots and crew that work for the carrier proper. But United could still treat them as having the same perks even if they aren’t in the contract, or the gate crew might not have known otherwise and wasn’t willing to say “no” to them, particularly since they were saying (true or not) that them missing that flight would cost United beaucoup bucks.

          1. Steve Wollkind

            Thanks for your post. I too have been so frustrated by the reporting and discussion about this entire incident that I’ve largely stepped out of it entirely.

            I saw another post from the wife of a pilot attempting to explain at length how federal regulations require airlines to make room for crews on planes to prevent air travel disruption. I have no idea how correct or well informed she may be:

            “this was a must fly, a positive space situation. In layman terms, it means that a crew must be flown to an airport to man a flight in order to avoid cancellation of said flight due to crew unavailability. This is a federal DOT regulation, not an airline one. The airlines are required to do so to avoid disruption of air traffic. In other words, if there are no willing volunteers and they need seats to get a crew somewhere to avoid disruption of aviation flow, they can, will, must by federal regulation bump people for the better good of the 1000’s” from https://thepilotwifelife.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/i-know-youre-mad-at-united-but-thoughts-from-a-pilot-wife-about-flight-3411/

            I don’t have the knowledge or means to research this, but perhaps someone here can dig into this claim and evaluate it.

    2. JerryDenim

      Your post is full of speculation, opinion and a hell of a lot of false information.

      You falsely claim: “Law enforcement does not come onto the plane without the request of the captain, who has full responsibility for everything on the aircraft. If the cop starts beating passengers, the captain still had full responsibility. If he did nothing to mitigate the cop’s bad behavior, he should be sued as well.”

      As an airline captain, and as a former United Express Captain no less, that claim is categorically false. The Captain is not in charge of security until the main cabin door closes and the aircraft pushes back from the gate. When the plane is on the ground, attached to a jetbridge with the door open the final decision of who stays, goes etc. rests with operating airline. The Captain’s input on such issues may be solicited and valued, or it may not be. The Captain can always refuse to operate a flight if he feels a passenger is a threat to safety and I can’t imagine him losing that argument, but the Captain is not the final word on security matters until the plane leaves the gate- which as I understand the facts, UA 3411 never did. Furthermore, I have never met a Captain -ever- that was eager to involve him or her self in messy company hierarchical boarding issues and I have never heard of a Captain asking for a fare paying passenger that was behaving themselves to be forcibly removed so someone else could take their seat. That would be incredibly stupid and would needlessly open the Captain to all kinds of personal liability and scrutiny for sticking his nose into an area of the operation (boarding priority) that wasn’t his domain. If you knew anything about airline operations you would realize how foolish your claims sound. Captains don’t go out of their way to make risky calls there’re not being paid to make, there’s enough liability involved with being a airline captain already. Sorry, but you should stick to being an authority only on topics you know about.

  20. Al

    I’m sure president Trump could solve the problem by ordering cruise missiles to hit United headquarters. His popularity among the frequent flyer demographic would probably increase significantly.

  21. Katniss Everdeen

    As bad as this seems today, I suspect the problem will go away pretty quickly. The fact that the ceo took several days to “evolve” to a position of contrition should be evidence of that. How serious did he actually think it was when his first instinct was to blame the victim and praise the performance?

    united’s market position in the u.s. has been secured through monopoly. There’s no imperative to protect it by concerning itself with service quality. They’ll settle with the doctor out of court–cost of doing business. Then they’ll quietly change the small print in their service “contract” to reflect this newly discovered reality.

    america’s meek acceptance of jackbooted enforcers continues apace.

    Where divine retribution may be more apparent is in Asia, a market in which united is trying to establish itself and which is vital to its continued growth. The explanation given on cnbc for the fall in united’s stock price was the effect it would have on its expansion in the east. That emerging, prosperous group of “consumers” may be less receptive to the idea that there is no alternative.

    Face it, america, you are expendable.

    1. Vatch

      I suspect the problem will go away pretty quickly.

      I think it will only go away quickly if United is willing to settle the case for several million dollars. I think that’s a little more than the cost of doing business.

      Then there’s the problem of very bad publicity in China, where United does business. Maybe they can pay some extra bribes to Chinese officials, but they can’t bribe the Chinese public.

      united’s market position in the u.s. has been secured through monopoly. There’s no imperative to protect it by concerning itself with service quality.

      Partly true, but it’s oligopoly, not monopoly. United is still vulnerable.

      If the citizens of the United States have the strength to insist on the restoration of something like the Civil Aeronauts Board, this type of event will become much less frequent. It will be necessary to stand up to Trump’s anti-regulation thugs, though, and that will be difficult.

    2. RUKidding

      Agree. United won’t pay a price here in the USA other than compensating the Doctor out of court. The price will possibly be paid in Asia, which has paid attention to this egregious incident mainly because the doctor is of Asian descent. However, if our cousins in Asia have the same attention span as we do here in the USA, their outrage might not last that long and may not affect United’s ability to expand eastward.

  22. khuzdul

    Regarding the discrepancies of the stories about the blood and the timeline for the removal, re-boarding of Dr. Dao, re-removal of Dr. Dao and de-boarding of the entire plane for cleaning, you can look at the following two articles (which clearly describe someone with a concussion / TBI):

    The man who had been removed returned to the flight briefly, Mr. Bridges said. Video shows him jogging through the aisle, repeatedly saying, “I have to go home.”

    Jayse Anspach, a seminary student who was also on the flight, said that when the man returned to the plane, he ran toward the back. It was not clear how the man had managed to board again.

    At one point, the authorities and medics surrounded the man and gave him tissues for his mouth, which was bleeding, Mr. Anspach said. Eventually the man moved to the front of the plane and collapsed sideways into a seat before being taken off the plane on a stretcher, Mr. Anspach said.

    A few minutes later, the man who was removed from the plane returned, looking dazed and saying he had to get home, Bridges said.

    Officers followed him to the back of the plane. Another man traveling with high school students stood up at that point and said they were getting off, Bridges said. About half of the passengers followed before United told everyone to get off, he said.

    The man who was originally dragged down the aisle was removed from the plane again, and United employees made an announcement saying they had to “tidy up” the aircraft, Bridges said.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks for that. Lambert recalled seeing something about a man with students getting off the plane but couldn’t recall where.

      How does Dr. Dao “jog” down an airplane aisle, particularly on a regional jet? You can’t swing your arms properly. And yet he was in such bad shape he collapsed shortly thereafter (another symptom of the concussion). This part may be accurate but sounds really implausible.

      1. khuzdul

        The video of Dr. Dao when he returns to the plane shows him moving faster than a walk, but slower than a run. The steps are very short and quick and he keeps his forearms raised up near his chest like a t-rex clearing the seats but without swinging them for balance as one would normally do in a jog or a run. It would be better termed as a fast shuffle. In walk/jog/run parlance, jog is the term that best fits.

        Regarding the gentleman with the High School students who de-planed, I think that this is a statement by him:


        Two other items either not reported or reported inaccurately are that:

        1) Dr. Dao and his wife initially agreed to be bumped from the plane, but after hearing that the flight that they would be booked on was the next afternoon, they declined and returned to their seats. They were then “randomly” selected to be involuntarily bumped, which seems to be a remarkable coincidence. The gate agent would who spoke to them already know that the doctors objected to being bumped until the next day, and decided that their objections / reasons were insufficient before confronting Dr. Dao on the plane regardless of how they doctors were selected to be involuntarily bumped.


        Dao and his wife initially agreed to get off the plane, passenger Jayse Anspach said. But once they found out that the next flight wasn’t until Monday afternoon, he demurred and sat back, saying he was a physician who needed to get to work the next day.


        Griffin Cummings says David and Teresa initially agreed to volunteer and they deplaned together. But the couple came back and returned to their seats “quickly.”

        When David was later chosen at random to leave the plane involuntarily, video footage shows him saying: “I won’t go, I’m a physician I have to work tomorrow, 8 o’clock.”

        It was reported that there were other flights between the locations later that day. As the Doctors do not have the rest requirement that pilots have before reporting to duty, this whole episode may have been averted if the United staff were able to “re-accommodate” the involuntarily bumped passengers in an earlier flight then the one that was offered. It is also likely that they would have had actual volunteers prior to the involuntary bumping as well.

        2) It is often reported that three other passengers peacefully complied to being involuntarily bumped. It is not often mentioned that the third passenger was Dr. Dao’s wife who you can see in the video leaving the plane after the incident, following after her unconscious husband. Since both she and her husband declined being bumped before and her “compliance” happens after her husband has been forcefully removed, I don’t know if it should be considered peaceful or willing. Apparently half the plane was willing to get off the plane after that incident when initially they could not get even four people.

        His wife, Dr. Teresa Dao, was sitting a row back and across the aisle, according to Griffin Cummings. She followed her husband off the plane, but came back to grab their carry-on luggage — “not crying, but definitely shook up.”

  23. Hacker

    The real reporting fail is that the media rarely talks about the huge environmental impact that air travel has.

    For many people reading this, air travel is their most serious environmental sin. One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10. NY Times, 2013

    If you really want to talk about what is right, having the airlines pay for using the atmosphere as an open sewer for their exhaust would be a good start. Much of this seems to me to be first world indifference.

    It’s bad enough when travelers suffer the indignity of disrupted plans, crowded planes, security theater and too often cranky airport staff.

    No, it’s not bad enough. Airline travelers are still blissfully ignorant of the pain they cause to Gaia. Might as well complain about their latte being too cold.

    1. different clue

      If your figures are correct, that means that the “more” people fly, the “more” they are adding to skydumped carbon. And the “less” people fly, the “less” they are adding to the skydumped carbon.

      If I am generating exactly the American average of 19tons of carbon dioxide a year my own Average American self, and I only fly once a year or even less, then I have already reduced my plane-based carbon skydumping down to a minority of the carbon I skydump. Which means I will achieve greater skydumping reductions elsewhere in my life. And some reductions will only be achieved by a forcible society-wide re-engineering of our use of material things and energy. One can’t take the train when there is no train to take.

      So I don’t feel too terribly guilty about my one flight a year over the past two years, or my one flight per every three to five years for several decades before that. If current rates of air travel are the cinder block that breaks the camel’s back, then let everyone else reduce their flying to one flight per year. And if that still is not enough carbon control, then let everyone further reduce their flying.

      Of course a semi-punitive carbon tax would add enough to the price of air travel that many frequent flyers might reduce their flights to one per year under the pressure of punitive pricing.

  24. someanon

    supposedly getting back on the plane shortly after being dragged off?

    There’s video of the bloodied and incoherent passenger walking toward the back of the plane (i think? maybe i imagined the walking bit) and clinging to a partition. The timeline is unclear, but if we assume that he was dragged off the plane, then it seems clear he got back on shortly after.

  25. Mark Caplan

    Left unaddressed here is whether a police officer can legally use physical force to compel a noncomplying citizen to obey an order that the officer has reasonable grounds to believe is lawful. Dr. Dao possibly had no right to refuse the order and suffered the consequences for his mistake. But let’s hear from a qualified lawyer.

    1. pretzelattack

      well i don’t think the security guards will be the prime targets of the lawsuit, but they may have some personal liability too. or maybe they were officially cops, i don’t know.

    2. oho

      >Left unaddressed here is whether a police officer can legally use physical force to compel a noncomplying citizen to obey an order

      1. we don’t know the job description of a Dept. of Aviation security officer—ie is it the same as Chicago PD. (not addressed by media at all—though kinda critical)

      2. the running presumption is that United’s Carriage Contract does not give United a unilateral right after the fact to remove a passenger who was seated by United.

      3. Regardless (from the video), it looks like that officer came in ready to rumble without much effort put towards at de-escalating the situation. Call me crazy, any form of physical coercion should be only used as a last resort or when there is a clear and present threat.

    3. stockbrokher

      Did you read the article? The major thrust of the piece was a lawyer’s analysis of Dr. Dao’s rights. (Spoiler alert: United acted illegally).

      1. Mark Caplan

        Right. If United Airlines violated Dr. Dao’s rights by ordering his exit from the plane, then he can most likely successfully sue United for damages in court. That is not in dispute.

        But did Dr. Dao have the right to disregard a repeated order from the flight crew and a uniformed officer at the time the orders were given?

        Here’s what Paul Hudson, attorney and president of Flyers’ Rights, has to say on the matter:

        “You have to obey the instructions of the flight crew even if they’re unfair or unreasonable.”

        If something the flight crew asks of you is inappropriate, you can file a complaint or a claim after the fact. But in the moment, the flight crew is authorized to stay in charge for the safety of the flight.

        1. Lord Koos

          Seems to me the doctor had a pretty good excuse for not wanting to give up his seat. It seems odd that they didn’t choose someone else after he protested… and they could have offered other passengers more money to give up theirs. There were a lot of ways this could have been a non-violent situation.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          This is not “unfair or unreasonable”. This is a violation of his agreement with the airlines. Not the same category. He may be right but he needs to cite FAA regs that are on point with this situation. And the reason crew orders are paramount normally is safety. The plane was on the ground and the doors were still open. I have the impression that a lot of things regulaton-wise key in once the doors are closed.

          1. Marina Bart

            Also, I don’t think the “flight crew” had anything to do with this. Presumably, this was gate agents, and then security. The “you must obey the flight crew” has to do with the actual flight. They don’t have magical authority in any other context. It’s not like the moment you enter an airplane every employee of the airline has to be obeyed without question.

            Definitionally, the flight had not started yet. Not only was the door not closed, they were literally asserting that the flight could not start until two more people left the plane. So the flight had not started, and therefore the flight crew’s complete power was not yet operational, even IF a member of the actual flight crew — as opposed to an employee or contractor of the airline who was not a member of the “flight crew” — requested he leave the plane.

        3. wittrs

          “I want you to volunteer to give up your seat… Volunteer, damn it!… If you don’t volunteer I’ll smash you in the face and drag you off, now volunteer!”

          ( -cleaning up the blood- “What could I do? He gave me no choice! He refused to volunteer!”)

        4. bob

          “a uniformed officer”

          OMG! A uniform!

          What the hell does that mean? Cops have rules. Do “uniformed officers”? Or, is their conduct even less controlled by law, and more controlled by the boss of the “uniformed officer”.

          Does it make a difference if the boss of the uniformed officer is a uniformed officer?

          Any any “uniformed officers” anything like cops? Rather than Uberized, independent contract security?

  26. tegnost

    “…seems to reflect the deep internalization in America of deference to authority in the post 9/11 world, as well as reporters who appear to be…” stenographers for corporate interests There, fixed it….

  27. KMSM

    Excellent piece, Yves.

    My immediate take-away from this story was this:

    Comply, or Be Punished and Publicly Shamed. If you resist our authority, you will deserve what comes next.

    I was horrified by the CEO’s justifications (and those of various armchair analysts) for the violence done to this man due to his “past” offenses. (And notice how quickly this man’s past was drudged up and exposed to the world.)

    So now we all can be judged, found guilty due to any past offenses, and be punished and shamed accordingly if we don’t comply with whatever arbitrary rules are imposed from above. This is all very Orwellian.

  28. J7915

    Were those 4 flight crew members on the clock? Or were they commuting from their homes to their domicile station?

    1. Anon

      The 4 crew members quite possibly worked for Republic Airways who is in chapter 11 bankruptcy one reason being lack of crew members.

  29. Sluggeaux

    This piece tracks what I’ve been thinking for the past couple of days. Are you spying on me, Yves?

    As a lawyer, I can confirm that your reading of the Code of Federal Regulations is correct — I’ve dealt with this issue in a criminal prosecution after an airline forced a young man, who had been threatened with death by a serial rapist (of both men and women beginning at the age of 12) at the departure gate after the flight had fully boarded and the doors closed, to fly across the country locked-up in a metal tube with him so that they wouldn’t miss their “on-time departure.” As a father, I have dealt with this issue over the phone when an officious gate agent tried to kick my daughter off a flight that she had already boarded (a kind passenger intervened and volunteered to take a later flight when things escalated into hysterical tears). The rules for denying boarding are different from ejecting a seated passenger.

    President Theodore Roosevelt drew his “line in the sand” with JP Morgan over interstate commerce and railroad tariffs. Transport needs to be regulated and monopolies broken-up. The lack of anti-trust regulation and oversight during the past 35 years has immiserated vast swathes of the country dependent on carriers who have bankrupted themselves in order to pay off leveraged buy-out pirates. They treat their customers like garbage, but they treat their employees even worse.

    There can also be little doubt that the miserable employees of crappified and bankrupt Republic Airline (who operate flights for United, American, and Delta) don’t give a rat’s ass about United’s public image.

    1. oho

      the whole situation can be a law school exam….

      As it sounds like the facts played out in some gray areas of law.

      (Apart from the presumably clear position in the TOS/carriage contract (Rule 21+Rule 25) that United did not have a right to unilaterally remove a seated passenger who was cleared by United to board)

  30. Oregoncharles

    Yes, it’s important that there was a whole cascade of mis-management behind this event, not just a brutal cop. I wrote yesterday that there were 4 or 5 mistakes but didn’t try to list them; Yves did it for me. Thank you.

    There’s a dual lesson: deregulation has messed brutally with airline management; and 2, United is especially bad. This points especially to gate personnel, but it’s also revealing that they were so desperate to get 4 crew members to Louisville. How did they let that happen? Do they have no backups at all? It might have been just that those personnel were late (all 4?), but more likely yet another cascade of blunders that we can’t see.

    This is what happens when you try to run air travel on a shoe string. United is supposed to be premium carrier, not a cut-rate one; apparently there’s no such thing any more.

  31. TSA

    Per 14 CFR 250.1’s definitions – Confirmed Reserved Space must be verified by the airline before that designation exists. It may or may not exist at the time the ticket is issued, depending on the airline. Assuming that the agent’s policy is to only “verify” once the doors close, then the protections granted to a CRS ticket holder don’t apply before then.

    Furthermore, the regs state that the airline only has to deny the smallest practicable number of CRS holders. The airline just has to argue that this burden is lighter than the smallest “possible” number (zero) and thus that denying their crew would impracticably obstruct other flights.

    So, these regs don’t cover him.

    1. Tax Guy

      Why don’t you finish reading the rest of the definition. After you stopped at the word “verified” the definition continues: “by appropriate location on the ticket or in any other manner provided therefore by the carrier . . .”. Your paper or electronic ticket will be that verification.

    2. pretzelattack

      do you have a link showing some examples of smallest practicable means, what “verify” means, and what united’s actual policy was?

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      Sorry, the attorney who weighed in addressed your issue disagreed, and his analysis has been confirmed by a California state prosecutor (Sluggeaux) who has dealt with these issues in his professional and personal life. He agreed that that provision did not apply, so what is your point?

      “Not only did everyone already have a reserved confirmed seat, they were all sitting in them. ”

      I gave the detail just to demonstrate that what the attorney said checked out.

      He then turned to the fact that everyone had been seated and what United’s rights were in that situation.

      In addition, your “verified after the doors close” argument is spurious. Airlines have to turn in list of who is on the plane BEFORE the doors close, that’s part of the “paperwork” to which they sometimes refer.

  32. VietnamVet

    Thank you very much. This is clarifying. The fake news and the stink from United Airlines are due to deregulation and a government run by and for the global oligarchy. Richard Zuley, the Gitmo interrogator, is the Interim Emergency Management Director, Chicago Department of Aviation – O’Hare & Midway International Airports. The corruption from the perpetual wars is permeating American society. Even as this incident is pushed under the rug; there still is the intensifying war with Russia, climate change, the sleaze and austerity forced on the little people. These all assure that the American Empire will crack apart.

  33. DH

    The BIG management fail is “lean” management from cost cutting with no subsequent empowerment of employees down the food chain to do the right thing. Apparently the compensation offers stopped at a $1,000 voucher while apparently regulations likely warranted up to $1350 cash (check actually). If his one-way fare cost him more than $337.50, then they legally would have owed him $1350 in cash (not voucher) which is more than they were offering him as a volunteer.

    The airlines are so focused on cutting costs that the gate agents are not allowed to do much in the way of negotiation. If they had the ability to go on the airplane and effectively auction getting booted off, it is likely that they would have gotten some passengers to volunteer for the $1350 or somewhat higher cash offer. However, $800 travel vouchers with expiration dates and travel restrictions are much less desirable than $1350 in cash which is why so many people don’t volunteer.

    I think the gate agents and flight attendants know how to deal with these situations. They are simply not empowered to. We saw similar problems with Wells Fargo where management sent stupid edicts down to the branches regarding targets for new account openings. Doing the right thing became grounds for dismissal so the wrong things were done because that was the internal path of least resistance.

    America is undergoing a crisis of management where short-term, poorly thought goals and objectives are trumping common sense and ethics. We get management by edict, jargon, and fad to placate shareholders and voters instead of thinking, planning, and ethics.

    1. Brian M

      America is undergoing a crisis of management where short-term, poorly thought goals and objectives are trumping common sense and ethics. We get management by edict, jargon, and fad to placate shareholders and voters instead of thinking, planning, and ethics.

      This crisis has now inserted itself at the very top.

      Dammit. Six Magic Numbers and I would exit this sinking ship. :(

  34. oho

    turn on the bat signal for plaintiffs’ attorneys!

    Smells like UAL was knowingly relying on passengers’ ignorance of UAL’s Carriage Contract (rules 21/25) to offer lowball incentives to get people off the plane.

    Munoz also said United already has decided it will no longer call on law enforcement to remove passengers from oversold flights once on board.

    “But once passengers are in their seats, “that incentive program needs to change,” Munoz said. “We need to expand and adjust those policies to allow common sense.””


    United did not plan to make Munoz available for additional interviews Wednesday, Hobart said.

    1. a former UA passenger

      much talk about legalites, the fact remains that the front (customer)
      facing employees of United Airlines are pretty tone deaf to customer

      United Breaks Guitars lays it out well, damage to a customer’s guitar
      and continued denial of any responsibility at all on the part of United.

      only until the bandsman got together a volunteer group and posted a
      video on YouTube that quickly became viral did United come around.

      they have a toxic culture at United when it comes to dealing with customers.

  35. pb

    Can you also clear up that the widely reported $1,350 “max/cap” is actually an enforced *minimum*?

    1. DH

      See: “Involuntary Bumping” here: https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/fly-rights

      It is 400% of your one-way fare to a maximum of $1350 if the alternate flight is more than 2 hrs later domestically or 4 hrs internationally. This is compensation in cash or check, not travel vouchers.

      The airline can always offer more if they want to get volunteers instead of simply denying boarding to the selected victim. For example, they could offer $2,500 vouchers for volunteers instead of denying boarding to someone and then giving them the $1,350 cash.

      So, a major issue appears to be that the gate agents/flight attendants don’t appear to be allowed by United to offer the legal requirements to potential volunteers. Otherwise, they could easily have gone up to $1,350 in travel vouchers instead of the $800 that were offered.

  36. Paid Minion

    This story is typical of ways that business is run in 21st Century America, (that Republicans want the government to emulate).

    “Do they have no backups at all?”

    No, they don’t. Having backup plans cost money. That money belongs to the management and stock holders/vulture capitalists. So it is left to the grunts in the field, with no resources, to figure out how to address the problems. Band Aids and bubble gum are the only things in your tool kit.

    I’m betting that it never crossed anyone’s mind how bad a video would look to the public. It’s also notable that the police “continue the beatings until compliance improves” program is, (as predicted by myself) steadily moving up the “food chain”…….today, Chinese Doctors, Tomorrow? White suburban soccer moms?. Elderly retirees? The handicapped and their service dogs?

    From a little song I heard years ago on the shop floor (Sung to the “Ballad of the Green Berets”

    Busted airplane on the ramp
    My only tool, an “Inspection Stamp”
    30 planes due out today
    But only five will make it out okay……

    Crew assignments are tightly scheduled, with no room for delays or error. It would be interesting to find out the circumstances that required that crew to be on that flight. Late arrival to ORD? Reassigned to Louisville to cover someone else? Duty time issues?

    Like many other businesses, the airlines are totally dependent on the ship being manned by undertrained, underpaid, over-worked, over-stressed people. A combination of “old timers” who are stuck there, and newbies whose main qualification is that they will work for what is offered, and who GTFOOD the second a better deal comes along. Usually just about the time that they are “trained”, and the cycle begins again. And who are constantly reminded that they can be easily replaced, preferably by a robot.

    These systems are barely functioning/under major stress during “normal” times. If some national emergency came up, and they need to suddenly carry 5% more passengers, the whole system will collapse.

    We’d last about three weeks in a shooting war with China or Russia. After that, multiple systemic failures would cause the whole aerospace system/country to collapse

    Our only hope is for the Chinese and Russians adopt wholesale the “Best US business practices and management”.

  37. Erick Williams

    Fact question: The article mentions Richard Zuley. Was he one of the officers involved in this incident?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No since he is now no longer with the Chicago Department of Aviation and I never suggested that he was currently employed there. I have yet to see any of the names of the officers involved in this incident.

      I included him as an example of a cop who left the CPD under a very dark cloud and then reappeared at the Chicago Department of Aviation. This raises questions about whether cops with checkered pasts regularly find a second career at the Chicago Department of Aviation.

      1. JM

        The wording/context surrounding your mentioning of him actually confused me, as well, into thinking you were implying that he was involved directly. You may want to think about revising it slightly to make clear your intent.

          1. ReallyHacker?

            The implication was there, so yes, there is something wrong with the text as written. Implication is not a “feature”.

            Please try again.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              I’ve had third parties look at that paragraph and they think these complaints are all caviling. This site scores at a post graduate reading level. If you want simpler prose, you have tons of other places that will cater to your preferences.

              1. ReallyHacker?

                If you’re going to go defensive at the slightest criticism of your writing, you should just stop writing. And lose the attitude, it does you no favors, and will keep you from getting a better job.

                So much for your “third parties” and “Post graduate reading level”. Care to explain this sentence?

                “Is this just an isolated example or have other Chicago cops with dodgy records find a second career at the Chicago airport?”

  38. Ralph

    Another thing you all got wrong is that Dr Dao’s wife was with him and was to be the fourth person to give up a seat. She can be seen on the tail end of the video running behind and trying to get around the other two security guys and to get to her husband. I am assuming that was his wife but maybe I am wrong. I am not press though. Press should get it right.

    1. Outis Philalithopoulos

      A commenter (see tejanojim above) already posted on this.

      I am mystified as to why you would choose to frame this as “another thing you all got wrong.” Did someone claim it was not his wife?

  39. Tim

    There will be a United PR guy fired for sure. He issued an official statement that said it was a case of involuntary deboarding, which the carriage contract does not cover. The CEO was smart enough to keep calling an orange an apple “involuntary denied boarding”. Won’t matter, lawyers will get it correct, UAL will settle out of court for 9 figures.

  40. Cashew-istry

    Maybe we see events like the United “deplaneing” [sp?] as horrifyingly stupid or insensitive. No doubt But beneath it all, the core causes, influencing the rules and behavior, is the desire or need to protect and grow profit. Where money is involved no action is too strong or stupid.

    I suspect that the United event is repeated in many other contexts in other businesses because workers, their bosses, and the top guys know that profit is holy and needs its reverence.

    So, if this is true, and I think it is, as to the fundamental forces and emotions operating, expect to see many more such f_ups. As each industry gets more revenue- and profit-thirsty, like fast food or retail or others, expect interesting news.

    With proposed deregulation, our financial services industry is set to make reading about its events even more delightful.

    How would our economy and society look without the press of profit, say in health care as well as in airline carriage?

  41. Mario

    I don’t think they should have used violence that injured a 69 year-old, making him bloody and lose consciousness. Any reasonable person can see that he is clearly elderly and not strong and not dangerous. We do not do these kinds of things to those who are weak. To me there is little difference between acting violently against this man and doing the same to a three-year-old child. When a child or an elderly man does not mind you, you do not beat them unconsciousness.

    1. bob

      …just like an algo picked the people to be removed.

      It’s MATH. You can’t argue with it. You can use it to dismiss any criticism today too. Disrupt!

  42. bob

    I think this is the simplest explanation of this “problem”-

    Untied outsourced its customer service to “cops”.

    It’s just another subsidy.

  43. Max

    Finally. An accurate account and report on events surrounding United Airlines illegal assault on a ticketed seated airline passenger. Thank you. It is a relief to see someone actually finally getting it right. I will be sharing it. A lot.

  44. A United Flyer

    I’m not using my name because I am eligible for United’s employee pass benefits, and if I say anything publicly against the company I risk losing them. I’ve been flying United, as both a paying customer and a non-revenue stand-by passenger, for over 30 years.

    Assuming there wasn’t some horrible traffic accident or similar that kept the Louisville-bound crew from arriving on time at ORD, my educated guess as to the sequence of events regarding why the crew members tried to board late is:

    * United knew there was an issue with getting the crew to Louisville in plenty of time, and they tried to give the crew “positive space” (not stand-by) tickets, but all seats on the flight were booked, so they were unable to assign seats.

    * When a flight is booked at capacity but not oversold, there often end up being empty seats because of no-shows and delayed connections. The gate crew, assessing the live status of in-flight connections and typical no-show rates for that specific flight, may have decided it was an acceptable risk to let everyone board normally and hope there would be empty seats.

    * When a delayed connection made up time in the air, or when it otherwise became clear the flight was likely to fully board, the gate crew solicited volunteers, but were still hoping for some no-shows. (Gate crews often solicit volunteers they don’t end up needing.)

    * Sometime near the end of the boarding process the word came down that the Louisville crew must be on the plane.

    * There were 0 no-shows.

    * A lot of stupid and cruel last-minute decisions were made.

    Another thing very few people seem to be talking about (elsewhere, that is; some commenters here do seem aware) is that, AFAIK, US airlines have no DOT-mandated upper limit on the reward they can offer passengers to entice them into volunteering their seats. The limit of $1350 that people are talking about for denied-boarding compensation only applies to involuntary DBs. When Dr. Dao refused to accept the offer, the gate agent could have gotten back on the PA and offered more money (and hotel vouchers, food/drink vouchers, first-class upgrades, lounge access, free travel vouchers, and so on) until he or someone else accepted. Apparently the gate crew either didn’t have authorization to do this or didn’t think it was worth it (or both).

    None of this affects the illegality of what happened, but it might explain how gate agents doing what works 99% of the time created exactly the situation they were hoping to avoid, and it makes United even more shame-worthy for being so shortsighted and cheap.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I had assumed United could offer a lot more and for some reason the gate agents didn’t have the authority or had been strongly urged not to use it. I’ll need to remember your point re voluntary v. involuntary DBs. I am sure if they had offered a hotel, food, FC flight, and not very much cash, they would have gotten takers. But that is real money, not airline funny money vouchers.

  45. FluffytheObeseCat

    There is a report (linked in BoingBoing comments) that the ‘David Dao’ who was injured while being dragged off this United flight is not the man with the checkered past that was so rapidly ‘brought to light’ by our fearless news media.


    It sure did ‘come out’ quickly, this dodgy past the doctor was alleged to have. Too quickly to have been vetted in any effective way.

    1. MoiAussie

      Great to see one of my favourite films, Brazil, repeatedly quoted in the Independent article. While not in the same league as 1984, it was incredibly prescient in many respects.

      If Dr. Dao has been misidentified, the Mail may be up for a big settlement.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        He’s going to be up for a big settlement based on his injuries and having gotten a very tough lawyer who can keep this story who can keep this story going and flame the anger in important markets like China. But it turns out after all the bad reporting on other fronts that this Dr. Dao is the one who was convicted of providing drugs for sex and has to turn in the license.

        But on the other end of the spectrum, some Web sources were also exaggerating. One reader whose comment I trashed depicted Dr. Dao as guilty of “100s” of crimes, when the LA Times and others report six felonies in 2005 (you can be indicted on multiple counts for the same behavior, I haven’t seen a good long form account after the furor died down).

  46. different clue

    Someone upthread raised the question of how to keep this in the eyes and brains of tens of millions of people. How to viralize it beyond the power of any media antiviral to suppress.

    And a thought occurs to me.

    If it took only a very little actual effort, what if our bloghosts were to create another category, right next to the most appropriate eye-catching already-existing category, so a running record of stories and developments about this United Beatdown kept appearing on Naked Capitalism’s Headlines Front page day after week after month after year until utter and total vengeance and retribution have been exacted upon the withered husk of United Airlines?

    The category could be called something catchy like . . . The Face Of United/ United Beatdown Watch
    And new fresh stories about this subject could keep appearing. And keep appearing. And keep appearing. Under that titled category of the unchanging name so that ever more numbers of people would know to expect it and would look right to it for the newest update about the legal and physical condition of the beaten-with-depraved-indifference-to-human-life Dr. Dao.

  47. AbateMagicThinking but Not money

    Watching America becoming great again with morbid and astonished fascination takes me to rabbit holes I would not normally dip into. For example, I learn from the Christian Science Monitor’s www, that a certain airline could afford a couple of billion dollars in compensation to bloodied would-be passengers as a cost of doing business and still be in the black. Who knew that Chapter Eleven Air is so profitable nowadays?

    Until the judges start handing out exemplary punishment on a regular basis, we are all going to have to learn to suck it up big-time. It has got to be billions; only the little people count in millions.

  48. Diane Gutierrez

    Bottom line: The airlines may have a legal right to remove a seated passenger if he threatened or disrupted the safety of others. This passenger didn’t. The airlines asserted their “legal right” by visiting coercion and assault upon a peaceful, seated and fully paid customer. Further, the customer is an elderly man with an expressed reason for not volunteering. Whatever corporate reasons or hairsplitting of the various corporate responsibilities, the bottom line is that violence was done to a paying customer with legal rights and any of us are at risk for a similar happening unless corporate culture changes.

    1. different clue

      A successful Mass Traveler Revolt of hundreds of millions of choice-making airline ticket consumers which was able to actually destroy United Airlines, force it into Roach Motel Liquidation, and wipe it off the face of the earth . . . would encourage other Corporations to look into changing their culture.

      When you have them by the car battery-electrode-implanted eyeballs, their hearts and minds will follow.

  49. Salamander


    Here’s something pleasing to ponder with respect to our political economy in which ethics and common sense are quaint concepts of a bygone era.

    If the individual in charge at the gate had stood down… either deciding that no, calling the police is not a good idea, or that he or she should offer more money than dictated by airline policy, or… sorry, but flight crew just isn’t going to make this flight… he or she would not be a hero for having avoided what never happened and the eight figure settlement it will now engender.

    He or she would have been censured, held liable for the added cost, demoted, fired, or some combination thereof… probably by a smug manager half a phylum higher in the precariate.

    We’d not be even thinking about it. The CEO would neither know or care. Just one more body down in the hunger games.

    You know it to be true.

    Some days you’re the windshield. Some days you’re the bug.

    1. different clue

      That’s why a Leaderless Mass Extermicott designed to exterminate United from existence and wipe if off the face of the earth is the only response that people can take without getting fired or beated down.

      Let the Masses of ticket-buying air travelers be the windshield. Let United Airlines be the bug.

  50. heather

    April 13, 2017 at 5:54 am
    I’m really happy you wrote this. Point by point the exact questions I wanted true reporters to ask.

    I have a couple additional:

    1) What was the exact mechanism by which the 4 passengers to be involuntarily removed were selected?
    There has been plenty of ink spilled explaining priorities of passengers in terms of ticket price, frequent flyers, and check-in time, and assertions some “algorithm” spit out the names. I highly doubt this semi-scientific process was conducted. My guess would be it was haphazard and hasty, and possibly biased. Who, exactly, made the call? What documents or files did they access?

    Given that by all accounts the original request for volunteers was made curtly and aggressively (“this plane isn’t going anywhere until 4 people leave”), with no additional sweeteners or de-escalations, I’m wondering whether an aggravated supervisor didn’t just hand-select a row to vacate. The process certainly wasn’t transparent. I’d also like to know exactly how the decision was communicated to the selected four. My guess is the same curtness and exasperation created an instantly adversarial situation – placing 4 (quasi) arbitrary passengers in the position of being “disruptive” *simply by occupying the seats they had purchased in good faith.*

    2) Who called the police, how many people were involved in that decision, and how was the situation communicated to them. Because what it looks like is airline security were told there was a belligerent passenger, or someone “refusing” to leave the plane, and thus treated the situation as a *security* issue, as though Dr. Dao were dangerous. If this is the case, it’s probably as misuse of airline security, using them as private goons to remove a passenger illegally, a passenger who was “defiant,” but only in the strictest sense of saying “no” to an illegal order.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, passengers get bumped often enough that I would assume this is in fact highly automated. You would not want to bump an elite class flier, ever. That would be a disaster. They regularly bump passengers involuntarily (in the gate area), this is a routine practice. Most of the passengers will have a United frequent flier # and they can easily check their histories. The top candidates would be anyone with no FF#, they would clearly not think they will fly often enough on United to bother.

      There is no way of knowing the answer to your question #2. But various reports say the first two airport police tried reasoning with Dr. Dao. A third guy showed up later and from the video, it looks like he immediately got aggressive. Query whether he just got there late and was an aggressive type, or was called in later and was told by the staff “We need you to get this resolved, this has gone on too long” or something worse.

      1. different clue

        One wonders if criminal prosecutions can be launched against relevant individuals. If prosecutions are called for, one wonders whether the relevant government-employed attorneys can be tortured and terrorised . . . or the governments which employ them can be tortured and terrorised . . . into prosecuting all relevant perpetrators.

  51. Nicole

    I like to know why the employees were needed to fly, what job did they need to get to, were they necessary, why couldn’t the airline buy them a ticket on another airline, and when a passenger offered $1600 for them to get off the plane, why did the manager laughed and shrugged them off. Legal requirement was $1350, and manager only offered $800.

    § 250.3 – Boarding priority rules.

    (a) Every carrier shall establish priority rules and criteria for determining which passengers holding confirmed reserved space shall be denied boarding on an oversold flight in the event that an insufficient number of volunteers come forward. Such rules and criteria shall reflect the obligations of the carrier set forth in §§ 250.2a and 250.2b to minimize involuntary denied boarding and to request volunteers, and shall be written in such manner as to be understandable and meaningful to the average passenger. Such rules and criteria shall not make, give, or cause any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person or subject any particular person to any unjust or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage in any respect whatsoever.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Note the section you cited, even though we referred to it just to show the attorney we cited seemed to know the terrain, isn’t germane. It is about who gets to board. Dr. Dao had already boarded. So what applied instead were the rules in the Contract of Carriage regarding when United can make a passenger leave the plane. None of them applied to his case.

      United claimed to the press (NY Post and others) as we said in our article, that they needed to get to a flight, presumably originating in Louisville, or that plane would not depart and would cause cascading problems.

      Please read the other comments. The $1350 limit is only in the case of involuntary denial of seating. There is not limit for getting someone to volunteer.

  52. different clue

    I thought of another couple of hashtags in case Twitterers want to see if they go viral.


  53. Amaro

    Is there a gigantic loophole in Rule 21 Refusal of Transport ?

    I didn’t see any discussion so far about Paragraph B: Government Request, Regulations or Security Directives – Whenever such action is necessary to comply with any government regulation, Customs and Border Protection, government or airport security directive of any sort, or any governmental request for emergency transportation in connection with the national defense.

    “Any government regulation”, and “any government request for emergency transportation…”, seem to provide an ocean of opportunities for a clever UA lawyer to find some legal (contractual) justification for removal of a seated passenger, don’t you think?

  54. watermelonpunch

    There was a lot of dubious stuff on NPR’s On Point as well.
    Too much corporate apologists, and where it’s clear that people don’t know (or corporations don’t want anybody to know) that corporations exist at the pleasure of the public to provide goods & services to the community.

    What disturbs me most is this trend for stigmatizing people who sue which this story seems to have brought out yet again.
    This is an incredibly popular attitude among middle class people in my area.

    Every once in awhile I hear someone tell a story, for example, about some “horrible person” who sued their own family member, or the local store, or whatever… and I’ve heard people actually say, “Just use your own health insurance! Don’t sue the ____!” seemingly not knowing about third party liability I guess. That your employer health insurance (or any other health insurance) isn’t going to cover you for injuries caused by another liable party covered under the appropriate insurance to cover the injuries.
    I guess these people may someday just be shocked to find out that their employer insurance is going to tell them to go pound sand… or sue.

    Why do people not know this?

  55. Helen

    My husband and I are taking one last flight on United, in order to use up our accumulated miles. We decided that merely boycotting wasn’t enough, we had to actively cost them something. Then cut up the credit card. My husband travels for work 40+ times per year.

    1. different clue

      Ah yes. To paraphrase President Elder Bush Poppy 41, ” a thousand points of hate”.

      I have read that clouds of thousands of Arctic mosquitoes can bleed a big caribou to death if it can’t get away from them. Think of that as an inspirational image. The mosquitoes are leaderless. There is no charismatic leader mosquito that the government can arrest or assassinate to stop millions of other leaderless mosquitoes from bleeding the target to death.

  56. Marina Bart

    I tiptoed into Celebitchy, a gossip site that has been a den of Hillbot insanity for a while now, and stumbled onto a commenter linking to this piece, as the single best article explaining the United situation.

    That was a delightful surprise.

  57. thoughtful person

    Thanks for the article and discussion.

    Cascading mistakes by stressed, poorly trained and compensated employees. Cultural bias to use of violence by police in enforcement, perhaps some bias against elderly and persons of color too, as their selection did not appear to be random.


  58. BSheep

    Comment: I think the idea that “deference to authority”, either by the public or the press is a uniquely post-9/11 problem is mistaken. Just one example is the response to and reporting of the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964. The press at the time reported the government story without question, but that turns out to have been gross exaggerated and at least partially fabricated by the US government. That incident allowed LBJ to push the infamous “Gulf of Tonkin” resolution through Congress, which was the beginning of a dramatic escalation of American involvement in Vietnam.

    Question: Federal law and FAA regulations say that a passenger can not interfere with a flight crew member in the performance of their duties and that has been interpreted to mean that a passenger is not allowed to refuse the instructions of a crew member. Does that apply in this case?

  59. Altandmain

    I think that we need to hold United Management to account for this. They built the culture that led to the appalling cut-throat nature of the airlines business. This planning in this case clearly led to 4 crewman than needed an emergency flight to Louisville, presumably because they somehow did not have any spares at a key hub.

    The problem right now with all the calls to boycott United Airlines (which I think is warranted) is that the airlines industry is so heavily concentrated that you will fly someone just as bad, if you even have the opportunities to do so. Amongst the US carriers I hear Southwest, JetBlue, and Alaska treat their customers better (I have not flown in a while and try to avoid to do so), but if you’re not where there is coverage, then you’re out of luck there. Even they aren’t perfect.

    International flights have more options (I’m sure the Southeast Asian carriers like Singapore Airlines, the Japanese like ANA or JAL or any other nation would love your business not to mention will often treat you better)

    This is about profit and nothing else. I’d love to hear stories about the employees – the airport staff, mechanics, pilots, flight attendants, and other employees. They are probably not being paid well or treated well by United or in this case, the regional airlines. This is all about the profit I’m afraid.

    It’s not like say, Southwest, yeah they are a low cost carrier, but they do seem to treat their customers and employees better than most companies. I’m sure you’ll hear of bad experiences on them too, but I suspect that overall they do better.

  60. Past Travel Warrior

    When I peek online for AVAILABLE seats for this Sunday STARTING with the 5:40pm flight 3411 (operated by Republic) — assuming but not knowing if those same flights existed previously — I see the following direct flights:
    – 5:40pm United 3411($486 operated by Republic)
    – 6:40pm American 3509 ($221 operated by Envoy Air)
    – 6:40pm Alaska Air 4239 (operated by American… I assume same as above)
    – 9pm flight United 4711 ($221 operated by TransStateAir)
    – 7:35am United 5477 ($330 operated by Skywest)
    – 11:55am United 4706 ($196 operated by TransStateAir)
    – 2:55pm United 3583 ($196 operated by Republic)
    (there are indirect flights with Delta and American as well)

    I find it interesting the Dr was told his next flight option was 2+pm Monday — and again assuming the same flights offered a week ago are the same ones offered next Sunday — the 9pm, 7:35 and 11:55 “UNITED” flights were not offered (even though the late hour and Monday flights might not have been satisfactory for the Dr’s work schedule):
    – they were sold out and overbooked?
    – financial incentive to United that only the Republic operated flight be offered?
    – financial incentive to avoid the American flight (and 1stop American & Delta flights however inconvenient) is obvious but were they also sold out?
    – I assume the requirements for ample rest for the last minute Republic flight crew demanded the 5:40 flight?

Comments are closed.