United Airlines is suffering from a major PR blowback after videos emerged this morning of a middle-aged man being forcibly hauled off an overbooked flight.
The videos, which were posted across social media platforms, showed a man on an early-morning United flight being dragged by his wrists out of his seat and then off the plane by three officers as passengers around him protested.
According to passengers onboard, United overbooked flight 3411 from Chicago O'Hare International Airport to Louisville, Kentucky. As passengers boarded the plane, the airline called for volunteers to give up their seat for compensation so it wouldn’t have to choose a passenger to do so.
After no passengers volunteered to give up their seat, United picked who would be bumped.
The airline said that it has a system in place to determine which passengers have to leave an overbooked plane. That system includes considering factors such as if a passenger is an unaccompanied minor, if the passenger is a part of a family group traveling together and how long a passenger will need to stay at an airport.
The man chosen based on those factors was told several times that he’d have to exit the plane but refused, according to United. The airline then called authorities who came in and forcibly removed him.
Chicago Police Department released a statement later in the day, explaining that the passenger, a 69-year-old man, "became irate after he was asked to disembark" the flight. The man's head struck an armrest that bloodied his face as Aviation police tried to get him off the plane. He was then taken to Lutheran General Hospital.
“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United,” United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement shortly after the videos went viral. “Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.”
Munoz added that United has reached out to the passenger to talk to him directly and “further address and resolve this situation.”
United doubled-down on Munoz's statement later in the day, writing in a letter to its employees that crew members "were left with no choice but to call Chicago Aviation Security Officers to assist removing the customer from the flight" as he became "more and more disruptive and belligerent."
People on social media berated the airline with questions and comments about why it overbooked a flight, why it allowed someone to board in the first place if he wasn't going to be able to fly and why that kind of force was necessary. Others mocked the airline with hashtags like #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos.
The incident comes as United was only recovering from another PR nightmare.
At the end of March, two girls who were “pass riders” on free tickets as family of United employees, were denied boarding on a United Airlines flight from Denver to Minneapolis because they were wearing leggings. When other passengers saw gate attendants refusing to board the teenagers, they spread the news on social media.
Only after a major PR blowback from Twitter users did the airline issue a statement clarifying that it does not enforce a dress code for paying passengers, but only for employees and pass riders.