Van Hollen to Introduce ‘Customers Not Cargo Act’ Responding to United Airlines’ Notorious Passenger Removal

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A United Airlines plane, via Wikimedia Commons.

A bill being finalized by Maryland’s junior U.S. senator would bar airlines from being able to replicate last week’s violent removal of a passenger by United Airlines.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen announced yesterday that he’s finalizing a bill called the Customers Not Cargo Act. The measure would make it illegal for airlines to remove a passenger who paid for a ticket if the company overbooked the flight or has staff who decide they want to fly as passengers.

“It is outrageous that airlines can bodily remove passengers after boarding rather than providing appropriate incentives to encourage volunteers,” wrote Van Hollen in an accompanying letter to his Senate colleagues. “Airlines should resolve these common overbooking issues prior to boarding.”

This consumer issue became a national one on Sunday, when a video circulated online of a Kentucky physician being violently taken from his seat on a United Airlines flight by police officers at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. According to USA Today, Dr. David Dao, 69, suffered a broken nose, a concussion, two broken teeth and damaged sinuses after officers dragged him from the plane. He’s since been released from the hospital, but has suffered further injury from despicable media attention.

United Airlines has suffered on a larger scale. Oscar Munoz, the Chicago-based airline’s CEO, issued an initial statement apologizing to customers, not Dao. His second statement to United employees commended them for their work, and blamed Dao for refusing to comply with staff who asked him to get up. In a third statement on Tuesday, Munoz finally apologized to Dao on behalf of his company for this incident.

Initially, reports indicated Dao was asked to leave because the flight was overbooked. However, United leadership later revealed that wasn’t even the case.

Aside from that fact, Van Hollen’s bill would prohibit airlines from physically removing any passenger from due to a flight being overbooked. It would also require the U.S. Department of Transportation to update its policy allowing airlines to force passengers to leave a flight.

Under his proposal, “airlines would have to offer appropriate incentives to solicit volunteers, and do so before boarding whenever practicable,” the senator wrote in his letter. “This narrowly-targeted update would protect the rights and dignity of passengers while ensuring that airlines retain flexibility to manage oversales.”

Van Hollen asked hopeful co-sponsors to contact his office.

The Department of Transportation has opened an investigation into the incident. Meanwhile, the victimized doctor “probably” will sue the airline, his attorney said.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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1 COMMENT

  1. The three people who left the aircraft in a dignified manner must be kicking themselves. Nobody knows THEIR names. They could have had a temper tantrum like Dr. Dao; grabed at internet fame, and presumably loads of United Airlines cash…moral of the story throw a tantrum and get fame and paid. The worst behaved usually get the rewards.

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