Disturbing videos and pictures of a man being dragged off a United flight have many wondering if airlines ever have the right to forcibly remove seated passengers—especially if those passengers are minding their own business.
Many fliers are aware that there’s a possibility they may get bumped—but no one expects to get hurt if they think they’re obeying the rules.
Personal security expert and former police officer Charles Carroll, the senior vice president of MorphoTrust, oversees a national network of over 1,200 TSA PreCheck enrollment service centers which perform background checks required for licensed employment professionals, airport workers, and air travel security personnel.
During his extensive career, Caroll says he’s never seen anything like this.
"I question whether there's ever really been a situation where you have a person whose paid for their ticket, they've already been seated, not placed under arrest-- and he was still dragged off the plane," Carroll told Fox News.
"It was totally mishandled and this poor guy took the brunt of the airline staff and security personnel's inadequate training."
The incident, which has since become a PR catastrophe for United Airlines, is continuing to spark international outrage as both sides prepare for legal action. On Sunday, Dr. David Dao was ready to fly home to Louisville, Ky. out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Dao had already boarded and was seated when the airline reportedly told passengers that a few fliers would have to give up their seats to make room for four crewmembers who needed to fly to Kentucky for work.
After being selected to get bumped and initially refusing to give up his seat when asked by attendants, Dao was approached by officers from the Chicago Department of Aviation. After the doctor continued to verbally refuse to give up his spot on the aircraft, security officers then forcefully dragged Dao from his seat, banging his head on the armrest in the process. Shocking photos and videos of Dao bleeding from the mouth have now been widely circulated.
But, says Carroll, a lot of people don't realize that airlines do technically have the right to deplane you.
"Airlines are basically dictatorships and they're dictatorships because of safety reasons, so they do have absolute authority on that airplane," says the former security consultant.
Airlines' contracts of carriage dictate the specific terms under which passengers may be transported, and they're heavily worded to favor an airline's decisions.
But is force ever necessary?
"The general rule in policing and also private security is that youre only allowed to use force in a situation where it's been deemed necessary," Carroll explains. "You're always supposed to start with the minimum, and from what I have seen, the passenger was never even placed under arrest.
"Here they went from zero to about 50, and it was totally inappropriate."
Immediately after the incident, United CEO Oscar Munoz appeared to paint the blame on Dao calling him “disruptive and belligerent.” A video has since emerged of Dao just before he was kicked out of his seat and, while he refuses to comply with the officers, he does not get physical even after they threaten to drag him out of the plane.
Munoz has since deemed the event as “truly horrific,” calling it a “system failure.” The airline has also vowed to reassess its procedures for seeking volunteers to give up their seats when a flight is oversold. And the airline says it will no longer use police force to remove passengers from a full flight.
But that doesn't mean aviation officials and airlines can just move on.
Carroll says United—and all carriers— as well as airport security teams, will likely be implementing new training policies and methods going forward. Those practices will likely include the use of comprehensive, non-aggressive measures to deal with non-complaint fliers.
“This all could have been avoided with better communication and better training for all involved,” Carroll said.
“Let’s face it, if you offer someone a new ticket and a little more than $800, you’ll have more people jumping off. United never expected something like this but because they were being greedy and put crewmembers above the customer, common sense flew out the window.”