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United Airlines removes engaged couple travelling to wedding from plane

The removal comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of the airline's approach to customer service after a video emerged a week ago showing security officers dragging a bloodied passenger off an overbooked United Express flight in Chicago. Photograph: (Reuters)

Reuters New York, NY, United States Apr 17, 2017, 03.27 AM (IST)

An engaged couple flying on United Airlines from Houston, Texas, to their wedding in Costa Rica were removed by a federal law enforcement officer from the flight on Saturday amid disputed circumstances, according to media reports.

The removal comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of the airline's approach to customer service after a video emerged a week ago showing security officers dragging a bloodied passenger off an overbooked United Express flight in Chicago.

 

Different stories

United said the couple repeatedly tried to sit in more expensive seats for which they had not paid, and would not follow flight crew instructions, according to the KHOU 11 News channel in Houston.

United, owned by United Continental Holdings Inc, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday evening.

Michael Hohl and his fiancée, Amber Maxwell, gave a different account. Hohl said he and Maxwell found another passenger sleeping sprawled across their seats after they were the last to board the flight, according to an interview with KHOU.

Soon after moving to other, empty seats in the economy cabin a few rows up, flight crew denied their request to pay a supplement for the seats, which United sells as "economy plus", and told them to move back to their original seats, Hohl said.

"We thought not a big deal, it's not like we are trying to jump up into a first-class seat," Hohl told KHOU. "We were simply in an economy row a few rows above our economy seat."

They then cooperated with an officer from the US Marshals Service who boarded and told them they had to get off the plane, Hohl said. The couple were rebooked on a flight on Sunday, KHOU reported.

 

Why United is being talked about

Dr. David Dao, the 69-year-old Vietnamese-American doctor who was seen in video being dragged off a United flight a week ago, will likely sue the airline, his attorney said on Thursday.

Dao was bleeding from the mouth. He suffered a concussion, a broken nose and lost two front teeth.

After the incident triggered international outrage, United Chief Executive Oscar Munoz apologised to Dao, his family and its customers, saying the carrier would no longer use law enforcement officers to remove passengers from overbooked flights.

Earlier, The Guardian reports that Munoz, in a letter obtained by CNBC and other newslets, wrote: "Our employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this. While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right."

United Airlines removed Dao from the flight, but not his luggage, the Daily Mail reports. While Dao was in a Chicago hospital with his wife, the airline sent his luggage to Louisville, Kentucky. Then they sent it to Dao's medical office in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, before finally sending it to his home.

The airline just anounced today that it will no longer allow employees to take the place of civilian passengers who have already boarded overbooked flights, The New York Times reports.

"We issued an updated policy to make sure crews travelling on our aircraft are booked at least 60 minutes prior to departure," said spokesman Maggie Schmerin. "This is one of our initial steps in a review of our policies.

 

The preceding United Airlines PR disaster

On March 26, United Airlines barred two young girls from boarding a plane because they were wearing leggings. They were made to put a dress overtop the leggings, which thankfully the mother happened to have on her, before being given permission to board. Their father accompanied them too, wearing shorts.

United initially defended this conduct, saying the girls were "pass riders", who were allowed to fly for free or at heavily discounted rates because they are related to airline employees.

A United spokesman said: "Our regular passengers are not going to be denied boarding because they are wearing leggings or yoga pants.

"But when flying as a pass traveler, we require pass travelers to follow rules, and that is one of those rules."

The airline never explained why there is a rule forbidding "pass travelers" from wearing perfectly appropriate clothing.

United was roundly mocked on social media for having sexist rules that contradicted its own standards.

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(WION with inputs from Reuters)

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