Over the past week we have all become familiar with United Airlines vs Dr. David Dao … which really is more like Republic Airline & The Chicago Department of Aviation vs Dr. David Dao … but that isn’t really relevant right now.
Since Dr. Dao’s unfortunate situation with Republic Airline and Chicago Aviation Security Officers, there has been a lot of discussion regarding what an airline can and cannot do in this regard. Many experts, myself included, assumed we knew what is an airline contract of carriage, but with the law language matters, so I decided to go back and reread the United Airlines’ Contract of Carriage (CoC) a few times, I suggest you read it as well, http://bit.ly/28IrXtI, and then discuss among yourselves on the whole legally hazy situation.
First off, while the United Airlines (UAL) Contract of Carriage (CoC) has a section for Involuntary Denied Boarding (IDB) and compensation for IDB, what occurred earlier in the week is not an IDB situation.
Dr. Dao presented his boarding pass to the Republic Airline gate agent, acting under contract for United Airlines, the boarding pass was accepted and legally boarding the aircraft was granted to Dr. Dao, at which time he boarded and took his seat. At no time was Dr Dao denied boarding.
The rules within the UAL CoC for IDB, as detailed in the CoC’s Rule 25, pertain to flights being oversold, however United Airlines has clearly stated that this flight was not oversold and furthermore a passenger cannot be denied boarding after they have been granted boarding and are already onboard the aircraft.
The UAL CoC states an oversold flight is … “a flight where there are more Passengers holding valid confirmed Tickets that check-in for the flight within the prescribed check-in time than there are available seats.” A passenger being Denied Boarding is not at all the same situation as a passenger being Involuntarily Removed, or Deboarded, from the aircraft.
Yes, the UAL CoC has a section titled “Refusal of Transport,” detailed under Rule 21, and in this section it states that a passenger may be Involuntarily Removed from the aircraft if they are Disorderly, Offensive, Abusive or Violent, as well as refusing to comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) no smoking regulation, or if the passenger is not properly attired, among other reasons … as well as … “Whenever such action is necessary or advisable by reason of weather or other conditions beyond UA’s control including, but not limited to, acts of God, force majeure, strikes, civil commotions, embargoes, wars, hostilities, terrorist activities, or disturbances, whether actual, threatened, or reported” … and yet even if this flight was oversold, and it was not, there is absolutely no language in the legally binding UAL CoC for being Involuntarily Removed from the aircraft for a flight being over sold.
In this situation Republic Airline sough to Involuntarily Remove Dr. Dao to accommodate four Republic Airline ‘Must Ride’ employees that needed to fly from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Louisville Int’l Airport (SDF). There is no language in the UAL CoC for Involuntarily Removal, or Deboarding, of passengers due to the airline needing space to fly staff on the aircraft.
No where in the UAL CoC is there language that a passenger may be Involuntarily Removed from an aircraft and subject to Refusal of Transportation, after being granted boarding, due to the flight being over sold or the airline needing the space to fly airline staff to the onward destination.
Passengers must obey the rules when instructed to, we should all agree on that, but must we blindly follow the rules when instructed if those aren’t the rules? The law must apply equally and airline staff cannot make up and enforce rules on the fly. Specific language exists for a reason, and it may very well change the Contract of Carriage’s language in the near future, but for now the rules are the rules and Republic Airline failed to follow the rules, leading to a chain of events that negatively impacted Dr. Dao as well as United Airlines.
Which leads to this question … how do gate agents enforcing such rules not know the rules?