United Airlines: A Great Law Student Hypothetical About Corporate Responsibility Life

United planeHypothetical:  Per your usual industry practice of overbooking flights, your company’s flight is oversold.  You offer your usual pittance compensation, but this time no one jumps.  Seems like everyone wants to get where they are going, no matter how much you up the ante.  Finally, you call out people to be involuntarily bumped, but one passenger refuses to leave.

You call security.  Security forcibly removes the kicking and screaming passenger, until he is injured.  They do so in front of what appears to be 1 billion cameras.  He somehow manages to get back on the plane, blood dripping from his face.  He is then removed again.

Your public relations office sends out some half-hearted apology.  Your CEO doubles down with an employee memo (which is leaked) that blames the entire thing on the passenger.

Student, advise your client.

I would start with the rules here.  Of course, United is free to bump passengers.  Involuntarily bumped passengers must be compensated.  It’s in the rules.  Oh good, so we’re free and clear and the passenger was totally in the wrong.  After all, the passenger ignored a flight crew instruction, and that means the passenger is in trouble.  Adhering to flight crew instructions is a rule is about flight safety and the safety of the crew and flying public.  My client is in the “right.”

I would add that United flight 3411 is also a United Express flight.  So it’s actually operated by a contract carrier and not even full-fledged United!  Ha!

Sigh.  That’s all you have to say?  What about the footage of the passenger being forcibly removed and injured?

That’s not on us.  After all, that’s security (who we called).  But those aren’t our employees.  Besides, an officer has been placed on leave for violating protocols regarding this type of thing.  We’re good.

What if your client was the passenger?

I would have told him he made a mistake.  You can’t always avail yourself of…

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