A recent scandal has been making waves in social media - a United Air passenger was forcibly dragged off of the flight after refusing compensation due to overbooking of the flight.

Ignoring the moral implications, and any air regulations United itself may have, do airlines have the legal right to treat a passenger on an overbooked flight in this manner?

  • 6
    There are already two extremely similar questions active, do we need a third one...?
    – Moo
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:02
  • 2
    The short answer is yes, and it happens all the time.
    – choster
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:11
  • @Moo Thanks for linking it - I think I didn't see this question because the words I used to write my title are drastically different, so it didn't pop up in the 'suggested' questions.
    – Zibbobz
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:16

1 Answer 1


To be clear, it was not United that forcibly removed the passenger, it was Chicago Airport Policy/Aviation Security.

The passenger was forcibly removed for non-compliance with Police instructions. The Police were called after he was non-compliant with instructions from United Personnel and Crew.

Meaning, the passenger could have walked off untouched after being asked by either United or Airport Police. Once he refused to follow Police instructions, he was removed by whatever means they, Airport Police, determined was warranted.

Once Law Enforcement were on scene, especially after he refused to comply, the situation was essentially out of United's hands. They could not have prevented the removal even if they wanted to.

Outside the specific scenario of an airplane and video, this is an otherwise routine Law Enforcement action.

United was well within the law and contract to remove him from the manifest of the flight. Once that is done, he cannot remain on the aircraft.

Use of Force is widely recognized in Law Enforcement. This situation would likely be governed by the laws of the State of Illinois: PEACE OFFICER’S USE OF FORCE IN ILLINOIS

  • While I don't disagree that the responsibility falls under the CAP/CAS handling of the situation, this doesn't prove legality - citation of local or aviation law would be a better proof.
    – Zibbobz
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:21
  • @Zibbobz Citation added. Every State has similar guidelines.
    – Johns-305
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:27
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    Of course, the fact that it was the police officers' decision to employ a given degree of force rather than United doesn't mean that the degree of force and the manner of its application were legal. That would be a matter to be evaluated in light of the document you linked to, and perhaps other applicable law, either state or federal. I've upvoted this answer because the question focuses on United's treatment of the passenger, and the answer emphasizes that those responsible for the treatment were government agents, not agents of the airline.
    – phoog
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:34
  • @phoog Correct. The Officers actions will be reviewed given the PR situation and video. If there is any liability, it will be against the City of Chicago. However, I would be shocked if the Officers' actions were determined to be excessive. This will be quietly justified when no one cares anymore.
    – Johns-305
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:39
  • @phoog United is in a terrible position here. They really didn't do anything wrong. The passenger was non-compliant and the Police were...aggressive...in their actions. United is stuck in the middle.
    – Johns-305
    Apr 11, 2017 at 17:42

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