Brian Mahany, the lawyer who tagged Bank of America for $16.65 Billion in 2015, has some information about the United debacle I think every airline passenger will find valuable:
United Airlines’ overbooking rules do not apply once a passenger has boarded;
United’s forced passenger removal was without any legal justification – it was illegal.
According to Mahany, author of Saints, Sinners & Heroes: Covert Ops in the Wars Against the C-Suite Mafia (Sutton Hart 2016),
“Passengers have far more rights than they know once they have boarded. Here are the rules:
Airlines can legally collect your money, sell you a ticket and then deny you a seat if they have overbooked a flight. Frequent flyers encounter overbooked flights all the time.
When an airline can't find a volunteer, it resorts to its published tariffs and rules (fine print) for overbooked flights.
United's Rule 25, Denied Boarding Compensation, sets forth United's responsibilities for overbooked flights, the rule goes into great detail as to how the airline must respond if it wishes to ‘deny boarding’ on an oversold flight.
Here’s the flaw in this week’s passenger removal – He Had Already Boarded!
Nothing in the rule allows United to remove a passenger that is already on the plane.
Other rules allow airlines to remove passengers from planes, i.e. Refusal of Transport.
United can refuse service for a wide variety of reasons and can even forcibly remove a passenger but only in certain circumstances including being unruly, drunk, not complying with TSA security screening, not having proper ID, smoking, bad body odor, inappropriate clothing and failure to obey instructions of crew members.
Can United have police remove a passenger because he won't give up his seat? Probably not.
Implied in the rule is that instructions from crew members must be lawful. Since United's overbooking policy only applies to denied boarding, once on the plane the airline doesn't have much room to order a passenger off the plane unless they are belligerent, threatening or violent.”
Advice for Passengers Facing Removal
If you are being improperly asked to leave a plane, do not resist. Be polite, be respectful and make sure fellow passengers have their cameras in play. It is one thing to engage in civil disobedience and be removed from a plane – it’s quite another to be arrested for threatening a police officer or airline staff.