Understanding United 3411

This is a United 3411 explainer from an aviation nerd (and 20 year United top-tier elite) for those who might want more color:

Note: This is not a defense of united’s idiocy.

  1. All tickets you buy are governed by a very detailed contract of carriage. United’s is here.
  2. Once you are on-board the aircraft and they want to remove you, you are no longer subject to section 25 (@overbooking), you are now subject to s 21 — refusal of carriage
  3. Overbooking is not a valid reason to remove a passenger under s21. The airline MAY NOT remove a passenger simply for its convenience. It must meet one of the listed reasons before removal may commence.
  4. The passenger asserted his rights under the contract to not be removed for reasons other than specified.
  5. The airline, unable to come to a negotiated agreement (largely by offering woefully less than the federally mandated minimum compensation required), declared the customer “non-compliant” and requested law enforcement.
  6. Law enforcement generally MAY NOT ENFORCE terms of a civil contract unless they have a court order. Even if they could, here they should have enforced the passenger’s claim against united.
  7. Federal law requires passengers to comply with all crew member instructions, but this DOES NOT INCLUDE unreasonable or illegal instructions. Asserting your right to carriage under s21 is not unreasonable and the crew may not demand you deboard for an unspecified reason.
  8. Similarly, most state law requires you to comply with a law enforcement official unless their request is illegal. The passenger correctly asserted that the police were not acting within their authority to remove him. Remember: this is not trespassing as the customer was holding a valid ticket for passage and fully entitled to be there.
  9. Airline employees who misuse the “follow crewmember instructions” rule should be fired immediately and relevant authorities should sanction — not praise them — for petty power trips. This rule exists to be used for safety and having the public trust and comply is crucial when the rule is really needed. Abuse of this power will make aviation much less safe.
  10. Law enforcement should have refused to intervene or provided de-escalation support. They also should have sanctioned United for misusing public resources in service of a private dispute. They did not do this.
  11. The airline then attempted to characterize the passenger as belligerent and threatening, though asserting your rights is not by definition either of those. Video suggests this is also not true, and in doing so United opened itself up to defamation claims as well.

So just to recap:

Once you’re boarded, united may not take your seat for overbooking reasons.

You are not obligated to follow any unreasonable or illegal crewmember instruction.

The police should not enforce civil contracts without a court order, and they took United’s side when clearly they were in the wrong.

Aviation is a special case in many ways, but we don’t abdicate our rights or reason when we decide to fly. Everyone at united — from the CEO on down — has demonstrated a marked lack of thought, compassion and contrition. They deserve the maximum punishment that is possible.