The treatment of a passenger who was physically dragged off a United Airlines plane sparked outrage and one of the security officers involved in the incident was placed on leave pending an investigation
Videos posted online by other passengers showed a man screaming as officers yanked him from his seat on United Flight 3411 before it departed from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Louisville, Kentucky, on Sunday.
The man, who appeared to be Asian, was seen being dragged down the aisle on his back by his hands, body limp, bleeding from the mouth, glasses askew and shirt pulled up above his navel. The videos sparked outrage on social media, the second time in less than a month that United was criticized for its treatment of passengers.
In a letter circulated to employees and seen by Reuters, United Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz did not apologize for the way the passenger was handled, writing that the passenger had “defied” security officers.
Munoz said there are lessons the company can learn from this situation, though he impressed that he “emphatically” stands behind his employees.
“We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process (including offering up to $1,000 in compensation),” Munoz wrote. “When we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions.”
The Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement that one of the officers did not follow protocol and added that he had been placed on leave pending a review for actions not condoned by the department.
The US Department of Transportation (DOT) said it was reviewing whether United complied with overbook rules that require airlines to set guidelines on how passengers are denied boarding if they do not volunteer to give up their seats.
“While it is legal for airlines to involuntarily bump passengers from an oversold flight when there are not enough volunteers, it is the airline’s responsibility to determine its own fair boarding priorities,” a DOT spokesperson said in a statement.
The incident was one of the top-trending topics on Twitter as users took to the website to express their anger toward the airline.
Video of the incident posted to Twitter account @Tyler_Bridges shows three security officers huddling over the seated passenger before dragging him to the floor.
Bridges said the man told United staff that he was a doctor and had to return home to his patients.
The airline said it had asked for volunteers to leave because additional flight crew needed to get to Louisville.
Another video shows the distressed man, still disheveled from the wrangle, returned to the cabin, clinging onto a curtain at the back of the plane and repeating: “Just kill me. Kill me,” and “I have to go home,” as blood streaked down his mouth.
Much of the online uproar surrounded the appropriateness of removing a paying customer in order to accommodate airline staff.
Outrage also erupted on Chinese social media, with the topic attracting more than 130 million views on its Weibo platform by Tuesday afternoon.
Twitter — along with other Western websites such as Facebook and Google — is blocked on the mainland by the country’s ruling Communist Party, which fears the unregulated spread of information it deems politically sensitive.
“Shameless! We won’t forgive them. Ethnic Chinese around the world please boycott United Airlines!” wrote one commentator.
“There is a long history of discrimination against Asians. I hope Chinese people realize this reality and support domestic products,” another user opined. “Don’t feed those who look down on us!”
United Airlines claims itself to be the biggest carrier to China, with more nonstop US-China flights and to more Chinese cities than any other airline, according to their website.