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Civil Rights

United Airlines and your civil rights

By April 21, 2017April 5th, 2024No Comments

The now viral video of a bloodied and beaten Kentucky doctor being dragged off a United Airlines flight because it was overbooked has sparked widespread controversy – and no shortage of opinions on both sides of the aisle.

There’s some question as to whether United’s actions are legal, but more importantly, were David Dao’s civil rights violated?

Let’s start with what happened:

  • David Dao was on a United express flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky, on a recent Sunday night.
  • The flight was overbooked, and United needed to fit four employees on the plane for a later flight.
  • The airline offered cash in exchange for voluntarily giving up seats, which is customary for airlines to do, but then when no one volunteered, the company randomly selected four passengers for removal — after they had already boarded the plane.
  • Three of the four passengers got off the plane, but 60-year-old David Dao said no. He flat refused.
  • That’s when security officers walked onto the plane, pulled the man out of his seat and dragged him off the plane while other passengers shot video with their cell phones and yelled in horror and protest at what was happening.
  • David Dao’s attorney said he suffered a broken nose, a concussion and sinus injuries.
  • The CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, sent a letter to United employees calling Dao “disruptive and belligerent,” but he changed his tune the next day and pledged a full investigation. One of the security officers is now on leave.

Were United’s actions legal?

Thanks to social media, the public quickly learned that you can, in fact, be booted from your flight even if you bought your ticket six months in advance. It’s in the fine print. But, what United did was force passengers to deboard an airplane that they had already buckled into. The carry-on luggage was already stuffed into the overhead bins.

One air law professional explained that while you can be denied a seat, there’s nothing in your “contract of carriage” with the airline that says the company can kick you out of your seat once you’re in it.

Many legal experts agree that David Dao has very good grounds for a lawsuit.  

How did this incident highlight airlines and civil rights?

The disturbing scene that unfolded on that United plane shines a light on an industry that allows private security police to walk onto a plane, use physical violence and whatever other means necessary to ensure “security” on an aircraft.

People have been more accepting of heightened security measures in airports and profiling passengers in the wake of 9-11, but at what point do our rights as American citizens get trumped by corporate bullying in the guise of safety?  

As one blogger put it, the problem is the “generally thuggish behavior that’s tolerated because, through years of (rightly) valuing our collective security above all else, we have given airlines authority backed up with the tools of law enforcement to handle business matters with the subtlety of a bludgeon.”

Have you experienced any kind of mistreatment by an airline or other business? If so, then your civil rights may have been violated. Call the law office of Jacqui Ford today.