Video of a passenger being forcibly and roughly dragged from a United Airlines flight by law enforcement officers created outrage from customers and social media observers.

In an account reported by several US and international publications April 10, the male passenger was apparently ordered to give up his seat because the April 9 flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, United Express 3411, was oversold and airline gate staff could not get anyone to volunteer to give up their seats. It appears that United needed at least four seats for flight crew who were en route to their next shift.

The video, taken by a passenger in a nearby seat and widely disseminated, shows three uniformed men wearing radio equipment and security jackets speaking with a man seated on the aircraft. The video clearly shows one of the men grabbing the passenger, who screams, then dragging him on the floor by his arms toward the front of the aircraft. In the struggle, the passenger  appears to hit his head against the headrest.

United’s CEO has acknowledged the incident and called it “upsetting.”

In its initial response, via Twitter on April 10, United said: “Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville [Kentucky] was overbooked. After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate. We apologize for the overbook situation. Further details on the removed customer should be directed to authorities.”

But after reactions to the video and United’s initial response exploded on social media early April 10, United CEO Oscar Munoz released a second statement, saying, “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”

Reports say that United gate employees offered $400 and a hotel stay, and asked for one volunteer to take another flight to Louisville the next day. Despite a lack of response, passengers were allowed to board the flight. Once the aircraft was filled, an announcement was made that four passengers must give up their seats to stand-by United employees that were scheduled to work a flight from Louisville. Passengers were advised that the flight would not take off until the United crew had seats, and the offer was raised to $800. No one volunteered. Next, a manager came on board the aircraft and announced a computer would select four people to be taken off the flight. The first couple selected agreed to leave the aircraft, but the second couple included the man in the video.

No explanation has been given as to why United gate agents allowed people to board before they had the required number of seat give-ups, or why the airline was relying on a customer give-up situation to get its employees to their workplace.

Mark Nensel mark.nensel@penton.com