United Airlines gets black eye over passenger ejection video

Just two weeks after that "leggings" incident, United has another controversy on its hands. Even the CEO says it's upsetting.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
Expertise Mobile | 5G | Big Tech | Social Media Credentials
  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
3 min read
Watch this: Phone video shows United passenger being pulled off plane

United Airlines has a weird interpretation of its slogan, "Fly the friendly skies."

A Facebook video caught three Chicago Aviation security officials violently pulling a man out of his seat and taking him off a United plane in Chicago on Sunday. The video, now viewed more than 2.8 million times, was captured by Audra D. Bridges, who said in her post that the man was kicked off because the airline had to make room for its standby crew. The story was first covered by the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Kentucky.

Another video, posted on Twitter by @JayseDavid, showed a closer shot of the incident and was viewed more than 6.4 million times. It shows the man with a bloodied lip.

The videos show the man shrieking as the officials got him out of his seat and put him on the floor. Other passengers screamed in his defense. The officials then dragged him away as he lay on the floor of the aisle.

It's the latest public relations mess for the airline, which faced a social media backlash just two weeks ago for preventing two girls in leggings from boarding a flight, arguing that they had violated the dress code. The girls were flying under an employee travel pass and were considered "representatives of United."

Social media has become a public forum for video documentation -- both recorded and livestreamed -- that captures companies in a poor light. It's not just people complaining about poor customer service and unwelcome behavior by airline flight staff. Earlier this year, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was captured on video in a heated exchange with an Uber driver, an incident that hardly helped the image of the company seen by both investors and the public as deeply troubled.

After Sunday's altercation, a United Airlines spokesman confirmed the incident and said that the flight from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. "After our team looked for volunteers, one customer refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and law enforcement was asked to come to the gate," he said. "We apologize for the overbook situation."

The airline initially sought volunteers to give up their seats, offering up to $1,000 in compensation, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz said in a memo obtained by ABC.

After video of the incident went viral, Munoz issued a follow-up statement.

"This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation"

The Chicago Department of Aviation told CBS News that the officer involved was placed on leave pending an investigation of the incident.

United and the hashtag #flight3411 have started trending on Twitter. One wag offered a revision of United's aircraft seating layout that featured "Fight Club" as a section behind first class.

Originally published at 7:41 a.m. PT.
Updated at 12:02 p.m. and 6:06 p.m. PT: Added statement from United's CEO, additional details on the security official, along with outside reaction and background.

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech's role in providing new kinds of accessibility.

Crowd Control: A crowdsourced science fiction novel written by CNET readers.