“Money talks” is a popular truism in our society. And it is normally true when it comes to an airline faced with all the passengers showing up for an overbooked flight. Airlines routinely overbook flights, expecting that a certain number will cancel, change, or just not show up for their flight reservations. When the number of reporting passengers exceeds the seating capacity, the airline simply offers cash incentives that are usually accepted.
Things did not work out that way, however, on a flight boarding in Chicago on April 9. United Airlines needed to make room for airline staff, but was unable to entice passengers to take different flights. Ultimately, the airline settled on four passengers who would be required to leave the plane. That’s when things took a turn for the worse.
One passenger, who refused to disembark, was physically dragged from the plane by police officers and injured in the process. The incident sparked outrage among other passengers, as well as the Chief Executive Officer of United himself.
One might ask: “can an airline really do that?” The short answer is yes. United’s contract of carriage, to which passengers must agree when purchasing a ticket, allows the airline to deny flight to passengers under various situations, including an overbooked flight. The contract provides for the payment of compensation for removal, subject to amounts imposed by federal regulations. Under the contract, removal may only be instituted after volunteers have not come forward.
If a bumped passenger will still arrive at her destination between one and two hours late, the airline must pay twice the value of a one-way ticket, up to $675. If the delayed arrival is more than two hours late, the airline must pay 400 percent of the one-way price, up to $1350.
To determine which passengers will be bumped, the airline considers several factors, including the following:
- The length of time the passenger will have to wait for another flight;
- The class of the fare;
- Frequent flyer membership; and
- The amount of compensation that would be paid.
Unaccompanied minors and passengers with disabilities receive preferential treatment and are effectively exempt from being bumped.
Unfortunately, as the Chicago case shows, it does not always go smoothly when passengers must be involuntarily bumped from their flights. If you or a loved one has been injured by the misdeeds of airline representatives, contact the attorneys at Alexander Law Group, LLP at 888.777.1776 for a free case consultation. Holding companies responsible for harm caused by their misconduct is something we will pursue with passion.