Bad News Won’t Stop For United Airlines As Another Boarded Passenger Is Threatened With Handcuffs In Overbooking Situation

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United really can’t catch a break from bad news this week as now another story surfaced where a paying First Class passenger on the way from Hawaii to Los Angeles was threatened to be placed in handcuffs if he didn’t give up his seat.

The passenger who had a paid First Class ticket was already seated when approached by gate agents to tell him that he’d have to give up his seat to a ‘higher priority passenger’.

This accumulation of incidents and outrageous procedures involving overbooking situations when passengers have to be taken off a flight after being seated is tarnishing the United Airlines brand worldwide.

Now a finance executive from California comes forward with another incident that happened last week where he was threatened by United employees to be “put in handcuffs” if he didn’t give up his seat as a paying First Class passenger.

You can read more about this from the Los Angeles Times (access here).

… Fearns [the passenger] needed to return early so he paid about $1,000 for a full-fare, first-class ticket to Los Angeles. He boarded the aircraft at Lihue Airport on the island of Kauai, took his seat and enjoyed a complimentary glass of orange juice while awaiting takeoff.

Then, as Fearns tells it, a United employee rushed onto the aircraft and informed him that he had to get off the plane.

“I asked why,” he told me. “They said the flight was overfull.”

Fearns, like the doctor at the center of that viral video from Sunday night, held his ground. He was already on the plane, already seated. He shouldn’t have to disembark.

“That’s when they told me they needed the seat for somebody more important who came at the last minute,” Fearns said. “They said they have a priority list and this other person was higher on the list than me.” …

Apparently United had some mechanical troubles with the aircraft scheduled to make the flight. So the carrier swapped out that plane with a slightly smaller one with fewer first-class seats.

A United employee, responding to Fearns’ complaint that he shouldn’t have to miss the flight, compromised by downgrading him to economy class and placing him in the middle seat between a married couple who were in the midst of a nasty fight and refused to be seated next to each other. …

That airlines use elite status to create a passenger priority list is nothing new but let’s be objective of what happened here. The airline KNEW about the equipment swap and how many first class seats there are on the plane before they started boarding. How do you figure stuff like this out during the boarding process?

The passenger ended up with a horrible Economy Class middle seat for a 6 hour flight to Los Angeles after having purchased a First Class ticket.

Meanwhile United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz made his first public appearance in an interview with ABC News since the incident where a 69 year old doctor was dragged off an aircraft and injured to make room for United Employees on the same flight.

Munoz explained the situation as a classic system failure where existing policies and restrictions kept employees from using their common sense and the situation escalated.

He also vowed that United would changed it’s policy and never again use law enforcement to take passengers off a flight to resolve overbooking situations.


Apart from the fact that it took United management three attempts and now this interview to explain the company’s position in appropriate way, I feel like there is more to the story. There is a rotten core in United Airlines corporate culture, and I’m not sure if it’s possible to weed it out just by changing management.

Hopefully some good policy changes will come out of this complete disaster, apart from financial compensation for the gentleman involved in the Chicago incident who has since taken legal action in a Chicago court requiring United to preserve evidence in the case.

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  • McCaron

    Oscar Munoz needs to be disembarked from UA !

    • David Stevenson

      you mean re-accommodated!

  • Gary Gray

    This is turning out to be one of the worst brand degradations in recent history. It’ll be interesting to see if this gets swept under the carpet or if new policies are in place. It’s just too big a PR nightmare. Surely, no brand can withstand this over time. My FB is filled with an high amount of United customer service satire. Personally, I happen to be switching over to Delta as my UA gold has run out – I actually had decent experience with my many long haul UA flights – except the last that had minimal in-flight entertainment.

    • Joseph Merrick

      They have decided to offer drastic pre-flight entertainment instead…

  • Xavier

    Again, it’s Muñoz, Muñoz!!

    • frischky

      As it should be “United States” in any language, not “Estados Unidos” or “États Unis” or “Vereinigte Staaten”

      • Xavier

        Of course, but it’s not related to my comment.

    • NYC10036

      I wish the “nya” were our biggest problem right now… Ay, Xavierito, this makes us look ridiculous. I am just horrified that a Chicano expressed zero sympathy and tried to justify violence against another person of color…elderly, no less–or another person, period. He is our community leader, and he needs to behave accordingly. Not a time to be diverting attention to spelling.

      • Xavier

        The biggest problem it’s so clear that don’t need more comments. I’m pointing out another problem. Lower importance problem but problem anyway.

  • Barbarella

    Since they were not able to launch the new Polaris business class on all domestic routes, they decided to launch the new service: The Fight Club economy with over 100% seat occupancy. Munoz deserves a life term CEO position.

    • superduper

      United Flight Club! not your normal UFC…

  • superduper

    paid ticket for actual flight vs swapped plane passenger… the swapped plane passenger should get the short end of the stick and seat in economy. why screw 2 passengers, when you can screw 1 really badly and compensate him?!


  • Andy

    Notice the deafening 6 second pause when he was asked if he thinks the doctor was at fault for the situation…..

  • Holiday_Hero

    Do Nazis work for United. Or can they not use their tiny brains in these situations. Sack them from the top to the bottom.

  • DrewT

    Ummm… this is -from- Hawaii, not to Hawaii…

  • richard

    Numerous incidents with UA screwing me. Flying from BKK/BOB/BKK using miles. Check-in and they say sorry, we cannot confirm all your segments. You will have to double your miles and we will try to confirm. Of course they confirmed every segment.
    Diverted flight from BKK to the US, had to overnight in Japan. 5 star hotel…BUT no food vouchers and nowhere outside to eat since we were in a business area. Cheapest dinner was over $100. Didn’t pay for breakfast……just left.

  • Jamo

    This is really wrong. I’m sure most people on this forum have elite status one way or another. I for one would never expect someone seated or even booked on a flight to be removed for me, if I needed a last minute flight. Standby list when everyone is waiting, fair enough – but to be booked, seat allocated and so on, not acceptable.

    The comment about a rotten core says it all. I think Munoz needs to go and probably a number of people around him. It will be investors who push him out if this continues to gain momentum. Now that Dr Dao is suing, this will stay in the news for the foreseeable future.

  • shlomo Puch

    I must say i am not sure aa is not worse. Returning from an international trip i was rerouted thru mia i devloped a cough before take off (iwas in first class) the flight attendant demanded i be seen by a medic
    I told her this is america not china i pose no threat to any bpdy firther more i ha e acid reflux which is probably the cause for the cough she summond the pilot who used his member instead of his brain. They had the csa remove me from the plain the csa felt that they were way out of line and wrote to customer relations wjo responded that this was there policy regreatfuly since the mergers both munoz and parker feel they can abuse passengers and not be accountable. I recenly tried klm a non us carrier and the differece was like day and’s a pitty that the us carriers feel they can get away with it tonite i flew southwest and sat next to an executive that flies to dc weekly upon my questio if he flies with the other majors he answered that he does’nt fly with that garbage.i believe the govermant should take steps to prevent the us carriers from mistreating and abusing passengers

    • NYC10036

      I, too, believe this may be an industry-wide problem in the US, shlomo. I have seen more abusive behavior by FAs on US carriers in the last couple of years than I had in the recent past. I, myself, have been subject to such behavior on AA a few months ago when I flew in F from LAX to JFK. An FA screamed “SIT DOWN!” when I stood up to go to the bathroom–and the seatbelt sign was definitely off. When I pointed that out, she continued to YELL, saying something like they’d be forced to turn back if I didn’t sit down immediately and I’d then be arrested.

      I complied because I deal with enough crazy people at work to know that I shall never argue with crazies. Another FA, a very nice Asian-American young man, then approached me to escort me to the lavatory–apologyzing on her behalf.

      If this is how we are treated in F, I could only imagine what happens in the main cabin! If something isn’t done about this problem, we might one day even see a situation in which passengers are beat up to give up their seats. Wait, that DID happen…

  • Streetsmart

    Shame on United Airlines. Shame on the CEO. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME.