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Passenger Forcibly Removed From United Flight, Prompting Outcry

A screenshot of video showing a passenger forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, Ky., on Sunday.
Screenshot by NPR
A screenshot of video showing a passenger forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, Ky., on Sunday.

Passengers on a United flight from Chicago to Louisville, Ky., were horrified when a man was forcibly removed — violently wrenched from his seat and physically dragged down the aisle — to clear a seat for airline staff.

United has not responded to NPR's requests for comment, but on Twitter, a representative of the airline said the flight in question was "overbooked" and that "one customer refused to leave."

"This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United," company CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement. He said the airline is conducting a "detailed review" of what happened and reaching out to the passenger in question.

Multiple videos and photos were posted on social media, and other passengers described the incident online — at first upset about the delay, and then horrified by the violent turn of events.

Witnesses say passengers had already boarded on Sunday evening at O'Hare International Airport when United asked for volunteers to take another flight the next day to make room for four United staff members who needed seats.

The airline offered $400 and a free hotel, passenger Audra D. Bridges told the Louisville Courier-Journal. When no one volunteered, the offer was doubled to $800. When there were still no bites, the airline selected four passengers to leave the flight — including the man in the video and his wife.

"They told him he had been selected randomly to be taken off the flight," Bridges said on Facebook. She said there was no incident involving the man until he was told to give up his seat.

The man said he was a doctor, and that he "needed to work at the hospital the next day," passenger Jayse Anspach said on Twitter.

"He said he wasn't going to [get off the plane]," Bridges wrote on Facebook. "He was talking to his lawyer on the phone."

Then United brought in the police.

Both Bridges and Anspach posted videos of three law enforcement officers, who appear to be wearing the uniforms of Chicago aviation police, wrenching the man out of his seat, prompting wails. His face appeared to strike an armrest. Then they dragged his limp body down the aisle.

Footage shows the man was bleeding from the mouth as they dragged him away. His glasses were askew and his shirt was riding up over his belly.

"It looked like he was knocked out, because he went limp and quiet and they dragged him out of the plane like a rag doll," Anspach wrote.

"10mins later, the doctor runs back into the plane with a bloody face, clings to a post in the back, chanting, 'I need to go home,' " he said.

"@united has everyone on this flight fully distressed and fearful!!" @JohnK tweeted. He later sent out an update: "Just asked to leave plane so they can clean up blood from passenger."

After the cleanup, the passengers were allowed to reboard and fly to Louisville.

The Courier-Journal spoke with Bridges about the troubled flight. She told the newspaper the plane was ultimately delayed about two hours, with no update to passengers about what happened to the injured man.

This is the second outrage-inducing United incident in just two weeks. On March 26, the airline turned away girls wearing leggings, later explaining that they were violating the fairly strict dress code for people flying on "buddy passes." The incident went viral, partly because of the airline's initial, unsatisfying attempts to justify what happened.
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Jonese Franklin is the WFPL Program Director and host of All Things Considered. Email Jonese at jfranklin@lpm.org.