A passenger was violently dragged off a United Airlines flight, but it’s even worse than you thought.

A passenger was violently dragged off a United Airlines flight, but it’s even worse than you thought, by Cynthia Than.

On Sunday night, a video surfaced of a man being forcibly removed by airport security while he was on a United Airlines regional flight at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois. The elderly passenger in the video, who appeared to be unconscious as he was dragged from his seat, was later identified as 69-year-old David Dao, a doctor who refused to voluntarily give up his seat because he said that he had patients to see the next day.

Even The New Yorker, which understood that passengers were bumped for crew members, referred to the problem as an “overbooked” flight, clearly not understanding what overbooked actually means. (The only way the flight could have been overbooked would be if flights always have empty seats for unanticipated crew members to fly for free, which would defeat the purpose of overselling in the first place.) …

There is a legal difference between bumping a passenger in the instance of overselling a flight versus bumping a passenger to give priority to another passenger. Any thoughtful person can see the problem that arises if an airline were allowed to legally remove one fare-paying passenger to allow for another passenger it prefers.

Since the flight was not actually overbooked, but instead only fully booked, with the exact number of passengers as seats available, United Airlines had no legal right to force any passengers to give up their seats to prioritize others. What United did was give preference to their employees over people who had reserved confirmed seats,  which would have been a violation of 14 CFR 250.2a (if the flight  were overbooked, as United had originally claimed). Since Dr. Dao was already seated, it was clear that his seat had already been “reserved” and “confirmed” to accommodate him specifically.

Illegally chucking off a random passenger so that an employee could take his seat. Morality is declining.

A Simple Way to Ease the Pain of Airline Overbooking, by Cass Sunstein.

In 1968, economist Julian Simon offered an ingenious solution. Whenever planes are overbooked, airlines should run an auction, in which passengers specify the lowest amount they would accept to be bumped, and airlines take the lowest bidders. …

But a full-scale auction would be difficult to administer, not to mention confusing and stressful for people who are just trying to get from one place to another. … The simplest option would be … [if] involuntarily bumped passengers get double the cost of their ticket for short delays, and quadruple the amount for longer delays. Another possibility would be to include legal floors, so that passengers would get (say) at least $600 for short delays, and at least $1,200 for longer ones.