Officers could be seen grabbing the screaming man, who refused to leave after he had been ordered off the overbooked plane, pulling him across the armrest and dragging him down the aisle by his arms.
A video of police officers dragging a passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight as it waited to depart from Chicago's O'Hare Airport sparked an uproar on Monday on social media.
Passenger Audra D. Bridges posted the video on Facebook. Her husband, Tyler Bridges, said United offered $400 and then $800 vouchers and a hotel stay for volunteers to give up their seats. When no one volunteered, a United manager came on the plane and announced that passengers would be chosen at random.
"We almost felt like we were being taken hostage," Tyler Bridges said. "We were stuck there. You can't do anything as a traveller. You're relying on the airline."
Other passengers on Flight 3411 are heard saying, "Please, my God," ''What are you doing?" ''This is wrong," ''Look at what you did to him" and "Busted his lip."
The passenger told the manager that he was a doctor who needed to see patients in the morning, Bridges said.
Two officers tried to reason with the man before a third came aboard and pointed at the man "basically saying, 'Sir, you have to get off the plane,'" Bridges added. That's when the altercation happened.
A spokesman for the airline insisted that employees had no choice but to contact authorities to remove the man.
The airline was trying to make room for four of its employees on the Sunday evening flight to Louisville, Kentucky. The four United employees boarded the plane after the incident.
A few minutes later, the man who was removed from the plane returned, looking dazed and saying he had to get home, Bridges said. Officers followed him to the back of the plane. Another man travelling with high school students stood up at that point and said they were getting off the plane, Bridges said.
About half of the passengers followed before United told everyone to get off, he said.
#UnitedAirlines : Leaving voluntarily isn't something you're forced to do. A better example: I'm voluntarily never flying with you again.— Mark Bowen (@L33tTweets) April 10, 2017
The man who was originally dragged down the aisle was removed from the plane again, and United employees made an announcement saying they had to "tidy up" the aircraft, Bridges said.
Bridges' wife told him she saw the man taken away on a stretcher, he said.
After a three-hour delay the flight took off without the man aboard, Bridges said. A United employee apologised to passengers, he said.
Incident under review
United spokesman Charlie Hobart said that police were called to remove the man after he refused to leave the plane when his name was called out, unlike three other passengers who agreed.
"We followed the right procedures," Hobart told AP in a phone interview. "That plane had to depart. We wanted to get our customers to their destinations."
Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines' parent company, described the event as "upsetting" and apologised for "having to re-accommodate these customers." He said the airline was conducting a review and reaching out to the passenger to "further address and resolve this situation."
Airlines are allowed to sell more tickets than there are seats on the plane, and they routinely overbook flights because some people do not show up.
It's not unusual for airlines to offer travel vouchers to encourage people to give up their seats, and there are no rules for the process. When an airline demands that a passenger give up a seat, the airline is required to pay compensation of double the passenger's fare, up to $675, if the passenger can be placed on another flight that arrives one to two hours later than the first flight, or four times the ticket price, up to $1,350, for longer delays.
When they bump passengers, airlines are required to give those passengers a written description of their compensation rights.
Hobart declined to say how the airline compensated the passengers who were forced to leave the plane, saying he did not have those details from employees on the scene.