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When I first heard about this, I thought that sure, United screwed the guy over, but they played within the rules. Only they didn’t, it turns out:

The United rules say they can deny boarding if a passenger does not accept compensation; the rules do not apply to someone who has already boarded. So when they sent in cops to pull him out for being uncooperative, he was actually asserting his rights.

What to do in a situation like this? As an observer? As a witness at the scene? As someone on a plane where this happens?

I don’t know. But. If I decided that some guy “making trouble,” someone I don’t know, someone who doesn’t look like me, someone who… could be me, next time… some guy was worth standing up for… then I guess I could:

  • Place myself in the aisle to prevent the cops from pulling the guy out.
  • Ask people around me to start live Facebook video feeds.
  • Identify myself as a military veteran (which I am), give my name, and ask for the officers’ names. [The veteran part to show I’ve also been in public service, to foster trust; the names because it’s harder to use violence against someone with whom there’s an established connection, even when it’s something as trivial as exchanged names.]
  • Engage the cops in conversation to determine why they felt the need to use force to remove a passenger who had already been allowed to board and had a legal right to be there. Keep them talking.
  • Get the United crew involved, especially the gate agent, who would have the authority to offer larger bribes to get people to offer their seats.
  • Try to reach a negotiated end result that would not involve someone ending up in the hospital.

Might not work. Probably wouldn’t, if enough passengers were just impatient about getting the plane moving and getting to the destination. Probably would just get me removed as well.

Dunno.

Might be worth a try, though. If I ever end up as an observer and witness in a situation like this.