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Should Congress Enact Legislation to Protect Air Passengers' Rights?

by Countable | 4.11.17

If you haven’t seen footage of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight, you’re one of the few. The video has prompted a furor around the world.

As is common practice, United had overbooked the flight. They asked four passengers to volunteer to be bumped to another flight in order to allow airline staff to fly. When no one volunteered they chose four passengers to bump at random. Three of the passengers reluctantly accepted getting bumped and left the plane without incident, but one gentleman did not. When airline staff could not remove him they enlisted the help of security officers, who forcibly removed the man from the plane.

The removal was violent. The man appears to have hit his head, causing bleeding, and then was dragged from the plane.

United has apologized for overbooking the flight but not for its treatment of the passenger, which is raising questions about air passengers’ rights.

Anti-trust laws have never been effectively enforced against the airline industry. At this point, four airlines control nearly 85 percent of the flights in the U.S- American, Delta, Southwest and United. At smaller airports one or, at most, two of those four airlines may be passengers’ only flight option. Given that reality, United has little motivation to respond to the current furor with any change in policy.

Although drops in stock prices today might provide some temporary motivation, unless they are sustained they won’t mean much to the company’s long-term bottom line.

Currently the Dept. of Transportation publishes what they call consumer "fly rights", but in a corporate-friendly travel environment it amounts to little but a list of guidelines to help customers navigate limited options. In the wake of the United incident, Canada has introduced new legislation to address compensation levels when passengers are bumped, but they have not gone so far as to prohibit overbooking in the first place.

Airlines have "contracts of carriage" that allow them to force paid ticket holders to reschedule to a different flight if the company has overbooked. If you think airlines shouldn’t be able to overbook flights and then forcibly bump paying passengers you should contact Congress and the Dept. of Transportation and demand they prohibit overbooking and take steps to protect consumers. In the wake of the United incident lawmakers will be paying attention.

Should Congress pursue consumer protections for air travelers? Use the Take Action button to tell them what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: via Wikimedia /Creative Commons)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(707)
  • pferdico
    04/11/2017
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    What United did to that man was absolutely wrong. Passenger rights must be protected.

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  • BeStrong
    04/11/2017
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    Note: the airline did Not overbook...they chose to bump seated paying customers for employees desiring travel, who had not planned appropriately for their own travel requirement. Removing a seated customer to accommodate an airline employee is unacceptable.

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  • Donna
    04/11/2017
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    But realize that the airlines enacted these draconian measures as a direct result of the s Patriot Act. So the airlines, trust me, will not fix this on their own. The PA needs substantial revision, if not outright repeal.

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  • Alan
    04/11/2017
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    These regulations need serious review. Removal of passengers for security and safety seems fine. For the carrier's convenience, no.

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  • Tom
    04/11/2017
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    Thanks to smart phone, social media and airline ratings we already have all the tools needed to regulate UA treatment of passengers. New legislation is not needed to avoid physical abuse of passengers.

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  • MikeCalGov2018
    04/11/2017
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    This is a story about assault and abuse by a corporation to their customer. Have we not had more rights as passengers, as consumers, for these airlines in the past? I somehow recall that these rights that we once had were"revoked" when airlines for D regulated. One thing that has happened since the regulation is the consolidation of the industry. Another thing is that we as passengers acquiesce our freedoms and rights when flying. It is understood that this is some sort of contract that ensures our safety and functionality of flying. However, this recent video shows a complete reversal and betrayal of unspoken social contract. Corporations are not in it for the best interest of their customers, there a means to an end. Corporations are beholden to their investors and people with actual voting rights. Except this, I promote this, still I feel that betrayal of this level should be dealt with decisively in order to end passenger abuse.

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  • Mary beth
    04/11/2017
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    Do we really need a separate law to cover what happened on the United flight? Why didn't the airline continue to sweeten the pot to entice more volunteers.

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  • Jf48
    04/11/2017
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    The use of airport security personnel to enforce a business decision amounts to fascism in the correct historical context

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  • Alison
    04/11/2017
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    The action on United Airlines is wrong on so many levels. Why not just send the crew via another flight or airline. Doing physical harm to a passenger which could lead to a lawsuit is not good business. The passenger had paid for a ticket as in a business contract. Just because the airline made a error in judgement (overbooking) does not give the the right to inflict bodily harm on a customer.

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  • Rajahm
    04/11/2017
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    Are we serious? Really! Are we serious? We are citizens and we have rights. United Airlines stripped an American citizen of his rights. Why? So that they could give their employees seats to paying customers? Legislation already exists and it's called the Bill of Rights. UA needs to be fined, the officer needs to be fined, and I hope a huge lawsuit emerges because it was a disgusting display of power.

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  • Ali
    04/11/2017
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    The massive consolidation of the airline industry that congress allowed helped cause this mess. There needs to be firm regulations placed or these elected officials should be voted out with people who can put them in place

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  • Thomas
    04/11/2017
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    Please consider some kind of legislation that would protect the rights of airplane passengers. Allowing United to send in their thugs to harm an innocent man who paid for his right to fly establishes a dangerous precedent. The police should not act as hired goons for a corporation.

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  • Grant
    04/11/2017
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    Obviously, see the video, then imagine that was you.

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  • Jay
    04/11/2017
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    Everyone should just boycott UA. They'll go out of business and the rest of the airlines will get the picture. Just remember, the masses have the real power, if a majority of us can come together on certain issues

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  • Alejandra
    04/12/2017
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    The way United Airlines treated that man was completely disgusting. As a frequent flyer, I want to ensure my safety and rights. I do not want to see this happen again. Protect the citizens, not the big businesses.

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  • Wanda
    04/11/2017
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    I sold my United Airlines stock today. I think that is more effective than anything else. Hit the company in the pocketbook. What the Captain of that flight allowed to happen is totally unacceptable. I hope that the Passenger has a very good lawyer. He could probably retire. The employees of United should be fired. The Board of Directors should also review the initial reaction of the CEO.

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  • Matthew
    04/12/2017
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    There is no need for more legislation on the airline industry. The market has already corrected the behavior of the industry and I am sure no other airline will do the same thing. If congress were to pass something it would be under the false premise of doing something for political gain with no real purpose but election sloganeering.

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  • JimElder3
    04/11/2017
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    Yes, Congress should definitely act to ensure passengers rights. The events of this week clearly demonstrated large multi national corporations, which exist solely for the profit of their CEO and shareholders, cannot be trusted to ensure the right regular people who use their goods and services on a regular basis. This is "The Jungle" all over.

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  • Jane
    04/11/2017
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    I believe airlines have gone to extremes to make sure it all works for the airline with no respect for the passenger. I believe there should be a passenger's set of rights

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  • Jeanne
    04/11/2017
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    There needs to be strong protection for passengers. What happened to the passenger on united flight was deplorable. There should be no overselling of tickets ever. The response by United to this persecution of passengers was just awful.

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