Imagine that you are a physician. You have booked a flight to a hospital where you have multiple patients who are scheduled and waiting to see you – potentially for very important and time critical visits and procedures. You do everything right. You bought your ticket in advance (you aren’t on standby), you arrive on time, and you make it through security without any fuss.
You finally board the plane and take a seat, anxious to arrive back to work. You are quietly waiting for your departure when an airline supervisor announces, “We have United employees that need to fly to Louisville tonight … this flight’s not leaving until four people get off.” You are asked to exit the plane immediately. You politely refuse, explaining you have patients waiting for you and that in this situation, you can’t be amongst one of the four passengers who are required to be “re-accommodated.” You decide to call your lawyer to see what your rights are.
Image credit: @Tyler_Bridges
You are then forcibly pulled from your seat and brutally body-slammed against the armrest by a group police officers and the on-board air marshal. Your face is bleeding and your shirt is pulled up revealing your bare abdomen as security drags you by your feet down the aisle, the other passengers screaming in fear and horror. This could not happen to you, a law abiding and non-violent passenger in the United States, right?
This is exactly what happened to an elderly Asian physician last Sunday on United Airlines Flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky. United used a system to determine which passengers would be kicked off the flight, which eventually led to the doctor’s physical assault.
According to United Airlines Spokesman Charlie Hobart, "The system in place enables us to take a look at how long a customer will need to stay at an airport, for example. We also keep unaccompanied minors, we try to keep families together, we take a lot of factors into consideration. "
This brings up multiple concerns, is there any transparency into how and why these criteria are selected? How do policymakers at United prioritize the involuntary removal of patients from planes? Which situations warrant removal by force? In this instance, the violent removal of the physician by United Staff has resulted in a significant burden to society and the healthcare system. This externality comes in the form of unnecessary healthcare costs, and rescheduling delays for patients who were deprived of potentially life saving care.
We would like to see more accountability from United Airlines. Every single person, regardless of whether they are a physician or not, has the right to travel safely. This supposed “selection procedure” needs a major overhaul. This is what the United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz, had to say about the ordeal:
United Airlines definitely has a lot more to apologize for than just "having to re-accommodate these customers."