WASHINGTON (April 13, 2017)—Responding to Sunday's incident on a United Airlines jet, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., is drafting a bill that would prohibit airlines from forcibly removing passengers after they have boarded a flight.
Van Hollen's proposed Customers Not Cargo Act would make it illegal for airlines to force passengers to leave a plane due to overbooking or to accommodate flight crews flying as passengers.
The proposed legislation comes after David Dao, a 69-year-old physician, was dragged by
airport police off a full United Airlines Express flight at Chicago's O'Hare
International Airport after he refused to give up his seat for airline employees who,
according to United, needed to board the plane in order to staff a flight the following day.
The flight was operated by Republic Airline under contract to United,
according to WikiPedia.
A passenger-recorded video shows three City of Chicago Dept. of Aviation security personnel involved in the physical extrication where Dao can be seen being dragged down the isle by his arms, head-first on his back.
Dao's face was dripping with blood in the footage, and fellow passengers
could be heard screaming and yelling for the violence to stop. The security team was reportedly requested by United staff.
The incident quickly went viral on social media and sparked worldwide
public outrage resulting in, what many consider, less-than-genuine apologies
According to one of Dao's attorneys, Tom Demetrio, at a press conference today, Dao was discharged from the hospital Wednesday night. Dao lost two front teeth, suffered a "significant" concussion, has a broken nose and sinus injuries and will undergo reconstructive surgery, Demetrio said.
"It made my blood boil, it really upset me," Van Hollen told Capital News Service Thursday, referring to the video. "It was outrageous."
Dao was one of four customers who were selected to leave the flight to Louisville, Kentucky
after all passengers declined United's initial call for volunteers. Dao said he could not volunteer his seat because he had patients to see the next morning. The four were reportedly selected by a United Airlines computer software program using unknown metrics; industry experts say ticket price, frequent flyer status and even boarding time could be factors.
Van Hollen plans to introduce his bill after the congressional recess.
"What has to happen is a change of policy," Van Hollen said.
The bill would direct the Department of Transportation to update the policy on overbooked flights and push airlines to offer incentives for passengers to voluntarily deplane.
Current regulations require airlines to compensate passengers when customers are involuntarily removed from a flight before boarding, but Van Hollen said the rules for bumping a passenger from a flight after boarding is completed need to be reexamined. United Airlines' policy regarding "Denied Boarding Compensation" is outlined in "Rule 25" and can be found online at www.united.com/web/en-US/content/contract-of-carriage.aspx
"The financial risk of overbooking should be on the airline that overbooked, not the passenger that paid for a ticket and is sitting on the airplane," Van Hollen said.
The incident highlighted a broader issue with airline rules that could potentially affect everyone, Van Hollen said.
"It is a very perverse and backward incentive in the system," he said.
According to Van Hollen, airline companies are allowed to offer any amount of value to encourage a customer to voluntarily give up a seat before boarding, but if a passenger has to be forcibly ejected from a plane, then there is a maximum reimbursement of a little more than $1,000.
Van Hollen said this could encourage airlines to eject a passenger rather than provide sufficient incentives before boarding.
He said he expects bipartisan support for this bill.
Demetrio, said in today's press conference that his client will probably file a lawsuit against the company and the city of Chicago.
David Noss contributed to this report.