An security officer who dragged a passenger off of an overbooked United Airlines flight to make room for employees has been placed on leave, Chicago authorities said on Monday.
The officer – one of three involved in the Sunday night incident – did not follow protocol, according to a statement from the Chicago Department of Aviation, and as a result “has been placed on leave effective today pending a thorough review of the situation.”
The forceful removal of the passenger from United Flight 3411 as it was about to take off from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, on Sunday.
One of four passengers randomly selected by United to leave the overbooked flight, protested that he was a doctor who needed to see patients in the morning, and that he was calling his lawyer.
Two uniformed men then reach into the doctor’s seat and yank him from his chair. Then three security officers huddling over the seated passenger, who appears to be an older Asian man, before dragging him on the floor.
While airport security staff were ejecting him, his face was slammed against an arm rest, causing his mouth to bleed and they dragged him out of the plane like a rag doll. He was screaming as officers yank him from his seat. He is then seen being dragged down the aisle on his back by his hands, body limp, glasses askew and shirt pulled up above his navel.
One woman could be heard screaming: “Please, my God. What are you doing? No. This is wrong. Oh my God. Look at what you did to him. You busted his lip.”
United had initially asked for four volunteers to deplane and get a flight the next day in return for $800 and night in a hotel, but there were no volunteers.
It then selected four people randomly using a computer and asked them to get off. Three did, but the man refused.
Officers from Chicago’s aviation department police force then boarded the plane. Mr. Bridges, a passenger, said the man’s face was bloodied.
He said, “Everyone was shocked and appalled. There were several children on the flight as well that were very upset.”
A spokesman for United initially said, “We followed the right procedures. That plane had to depart.”
Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines’ parent company, apologised first in a written statement and then in a letter to employees on Monday evening.
“Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this,” Mr Munoz told employees.
Mr Munoz said that the airline might learn from the experience, and it was continuing to look into the incident.
The flight was operated for United by Republic Airline, which United hires to fly United Express flights. Mr Munoz said four Republic employees approached United’s gate agents after the plane was fully loaded and said they needed to board. He said the airline asked for volunteers to give up their seats, and then moved to involuntary bumping, offering up to $1,000 in compensation. He said the airline was also attempting to speak to the passenger directly to “resolve this situation”.
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