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Can I Be Forced Off Of A Flight Against My Will? Sadly, Yes

This past Monday, social media and online publications erupted in outrage after video was released showing United Airlines passenger, Dr. David Dao, being forcibly removed from his flight.

Based on the accounts of passengers on Dao’s flight, United overbooked its flight and needed to make space for four airline employees who were scheduled to work the next day.

There have been conflicting reports as to weather passengers were offered a $400 voucher and hotel accommodations once they had boarded or prior to boarding, but all accounts noted that passengers were allowed to board despite no one voluntarily giving up their seat.

Once on the plane, the offer was upped to $800. Still, no one voluntarily gave up his or her seat. The flight was scheduled for Sunday evening, and there would be no alternative flight arrangements available until the following day. For many, this would mean missing a full day of work.

At this point, the airline randomly selected four passengers to be involuntarily removed from the flight, including Dr. Dao and his wife. Dr. Dao declined to leave the aircraft, noting that he needed to see patients the following day.

Dr. Dao was then forcibly removed from the flight.

The United Airlines story, and the subsequent responses from the airline and the company’s CEO, has been a trending story, with many calling the company ‘tone deft’ and some calling to “boycott United”

Disregarding the human and emotional element of the story, let’s examine some of the rights afforded to airline passengers related to overbooking.

1. It is not illegal for airlines to overbook flights or involuntarily remove passengers.

This practice may seem extremely unfair, but all airlines do so, unfortunately. Despite having hefty cancellation fees and penalties, airlines still overbook flights to accommodate for travel no-shows.

2. If any airline overbooks and needs additional space, they will seek persons to voluntarily give up his or her seat.

This process is USUALLY completed PRIOR to boarding, and compensation is at the discretion of the airline.

3. If no passenger voluntarily gives up a seat, the airline can begin an involuntary passenger removal exercise by choosing customers at random, based on a wide range of variables.

4. If a passenger is chosen to be involuntary removed from a flight, an airline must compensate that passenger. However, the customer ultimately has no choice but to leave an aircraft if asked to do so.

I asked several aviation employees for further insight, if there is any additional course of action for passengers who are chosen via random selection to be bumped from a flight, but they cannot afford to do so (Ex. doing so would cause them to lose their job or they have an important time bound activity, wedding, funeral, family emergency etc). Apparently there is none.

5. What can you do?

The law is currently on the side of the airlines, and passengers have minimal rights when it comes to flying.

However, flyers can demand change. Airlines are a business, and customers can create change with their voices and with their dollars.

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